Commentary

National political columnist lambastes NC voting rights decision

Voting rightsOne of America’s funniest and most insightful political columnists has authored a succinct and excellent take-down of Judge Thomas Schroeder’s lame but predictable approval of North Carolina’s monster voter suppression law.

Here’s Esquire’s Charles Pierce in “North Carolina’s Voting Laws Are Conspicuously Suppressing the Vote: And yet they were just upheld by a Bush-appointed judge”:

Did you hear the trumpets in the sky Monday evening? The Day of Jubilee has sounded again, this time in North Carolina.

In his ruling, the judge suggested that past discrimination had abated. “There is significant, shameful past discrimination,” he wrote. “In North Carolina’s recent history, however, certainly for the last quarter century, there is little official discrimination to consider.”

In upholding the voter suppression laws in the now consistently insane state of North Carolina, Judge Thomas Schroeder, another gift to the Republic from the late Avignon Presidency, has walked right on the same glory road that led Chief Justice John Roberts to cut the viscera from the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County. The conservative movement has worked hard to salt the federal judiciary with people who believe that government has done all it can in the fight against institutional racism, and that the fight itself was won decades ago, and that the country never backslides once it has achieved progress. Combined with this fantastical vision of a country that exists somewhere between the Western Isles and the Big Rock Candy Mountain, these judges also appear completely oblivious to how most people—and especially, most poor people—actually exist in the world. Read more

Commentary

Decision upholding NC’s restrictive voting law is far from the end of the story (UPDATED)

Voter-ID-signThe lengthy ruling yesterday by Judge Thomas Schroeder (a George W. Bush appointee to the federal courts) upholding North Carolina’s restrictive voter ID law is far from the end of the story on the matter. The following statement issued after the decision by advocates from the ACLU of North Carolina and Southern Coalition for Social Justice explains why:

The American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Coalition for Social Justice condemned today’s federal court ruling upholding provisions of North Carolina’s restrictive voting law. The groups are analyzing the court’s decision and considering next steps.

The groups are challenging provisions that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit the counting of out-of-precinct ballots. Thousands of North Carolinians, disproportionately African-Americans, have relied on those provisions to cast their votes in past elections.

“The sweeping barriers imposed by this law undermine voter participation and have an overwhelmingly discriminatory impact on African-Americans. This ruling does not change that reality. We are already examining an appeal,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

The ACLU, ACLU of North Carolina, and Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed the lawsuit in 2013 on behalf of several plaintiffs, including the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, North Carolina Common Cause, and Unifour Onestop Collaborative, and several individuals.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals previously ordered North Carolina to restore same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting for the 2014 elections as the case made its way through the courts; that ruling was ultimately reversed, however, and the provisions remained in effect.

“Today’s ruling is inconsistent with the Fourth Circuit’s decision in 2014, and we’re confident that the voters in this state will eventually be vindicated,” said Southern Coalition for Social Justice senior attorney Allison Riggs.

At federal trial in July 2015, dozens of witnesses spoke of how the law has severely restricted ballot access for the state’s most vulnerable citizens, including low-income voters, those with transportation challenges, and particularly African-American voters. In the 2012 election, 900,000 North Carolinians cast their ballots during the seven days of early voting eliminated by the North Carolina General Assembly – 70 percent of those who voted early were African-American.

The ACLU and Southern Coalition for Social Justice charge the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act.

This morning, Bob Hall, Executive Director of the voting watchdog group Democracy North Carolina offered the following statement: Read more

Commentary

Richard Burr at the center of the most ridiculous (and telling) story of the weekend

Richard Burr 2Another “you can’t make this stuff up” story came to light this weekend in the saga of North Carolina’s monster voter suppression law.

As Lynn Bonner of Raleigh’s News & Observer reported:

“U.S. Sen. Richard Burr cast a ballot during the the early voting period for the North Carolina primary after going to a polling place without an acceptable form of identification.

Burr, a Republican from Winston-Salem running for re-election, cast a provisional ballot and filled out a ‘reasonable impediment’ form, state elections records show.

‘Sen. Burr discovered he lost his ID when he arrived at the polling location, but he went out and got a new drivers license,’ his spokeswoman said in an email.”

There are several obvious takeaways from this story.

Number One is that had Republicans not made their last minute move to add the “reasonable impediments” language to their voter ID law last summer in response to court challenges, Burr would have been out of luck.

Number Two is that the whole incident points out the absurdity of the voter ID law. There is no actual widespread fraud that the law will attack. Instead, thousands of people who lack ID like Burr — many of whom have been voting religiously since the senator was in short pants — will be discouraged from voting.

Number Three is: How does a United States Senator lose his driver’s license and forget about it before heading out to vote for himself? Let’s hope Burr has a few choice words for his Senate colleague, the former Speaker of the North Carolina House and architect of the suppression law — Thom Tillis — the next time the two are sipping lattes in the Senate cloakroom.

Finally, Number Four is this: Let’s hope all the judges who will ultimately rule on the constitutionality of the law become aware of the Burr situation and take it into their calculus in rendering the ultimate decisions in the matter.

News

The high cost of defending the conservative agenda

The state legislature has set aside $8 million to defend lawsuits challenging the litany of controversial laws passed by the Republican majority in recent years, according to the Associated Press.

The litigation list is long and includes several state and federal actions seeking a rejection of voting maps adopted in 2011 and a reversal of voting law changes enacted in 2013, as well as challenges to the state’s same-sex marriage ban, the private school voucher program and the “Choose Life” license plate offering.

Funds for litigation costs go to private counsel retained to represent state officials in court, typically the job of the Attorney General. In some instances though, Attorney General Roy Cooper has declined to represent the state in cases which his office has determined are indefensible.  For example, after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled that a Virginia gay marriage ban violated the U.S. Constitution, Cooper stated that his office would no longer defend the similar North Carolina ban in court. It was time to stop fighting court battles the state could not win, he said at the time.

In other instances, Republican lawmakers have retained private counsel even while Cooper was likewise defending the state, voicing concerns that he wouldn’t adequately represent their interests.

The primary beneficiary of the General Assembly’s largess has been the Raleigh office of Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart, with attorneys from that firm representing state officials in several lawsuits, including the voting rights and redistricting cases. That’s the same firm that also advised Republican leaders during the drafting of the 2011 redistricting plan.

Outside bills since summer 2014 alone exceeded $3 million, according to the AP — $2.9 million of that incurred by Ogletree Deakins to defend the voting rights cases.

Those cases are far from over, as dispositive rulings from the federal district courts remain pending and appeals to the Fourth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court are likely to follow. The same is true for the redistricting cases in state and federal courts, and new lawsuits challenging other controversial laws are on the horizon.

As the AP points out, a challenge to the state’s “magistrate recusal” law, which allows magistrates to opt out of performing marriages based upon a “sincerely held religious objection” to gay marriage, could be filed in the coming months.

According to Roy Cooper’s office,  the Attorney General has defended state laws in at least 15 cases and didn’t need the help of costly outside counsel.

“Our office hasn’t requested that the General Assembly hire any of the private lawyers they’ve been paying, and we think it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars to pay outside lawyers to do the work we’re already doing,” Cooper’s spokesperson Noelle Talley said in a statement.

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News

Day one in the court fight over voting rights in North Carolina

Crowd outside the federal courthouse in Winston-Salem

Crowd outside the federal courthouse in Winston-Salem

The battle over sweeping election law changes adopted in North Carolina in 2013 opened on two fronts yesterday.

In a packed courtroom inside the federal courthouse in Winston-Salem, attorneys for both the challengers and the state laid out the case they planned to present to U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder over the next several weeks.

State lawmakers knew exactly what they were doing when they stripped away same day registration, cut early voting days and eliminated the counting of out-of-precinct provisional ballots — provisions used widely by minority voters — Penda D. Hair, an attorney for the North Carolina NAACP, said in her opening statement.

“They were voter suppressors in search of a pretext,” she told the judge.

The state has argued throughout the case that the 2013 changes were neutral on their face, burdening all voters – not just African-American or Latino voters – and that the state’s election laws now resembled those in other states, where same day registration and early voting don’t exist.

But Hair dismissed that argument, saying that other states do not have the same racially-charged history of voter suppression as does North Carolina.

“Poll taxes were neutral on their face,” Hair said. “Literacy tests were neutral on their face. The law teaches it is the impact that matters – an impact that is linked to social and historical conditions – not whether a law explicitly says African Americans or Latinos are not allowed to vote.”

Outside, the trial over the voting changes in the court of public opinion also waged on.

Speakers from the state NAACP held an early morning press conference while their supporters and others from voting rights advocacy groups chanted what’s become the mantra for the Moral Monday movement: “Forward together! Not one step back.”

Ricky Diaz for the NCGOP

Ricky Diaz for the NCGOP

In the opposite corner behind a podium bearing the NCGOP logo, state Republican Party spokesman Ricky Diaz told the media that the election law changes were simply common sense provisions meant to ensure the integrity of the vote.

The parties have identified nearly 100 voters, experts and state officials as possible witnesses in the case, and once opening arguments ended, the challengers began calling them to the stand.

Durham resident Gwendolyn Farrington told the court that she tried to vote near her 6 a.m.-to-6 p.m. job, since she couldn’t get to her own precinct, but was told that she had to cast a provisional ballot — which she later learned would not be counted.

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the state NAACP, also took the stand yesterday afternoon in advance of a planned Moral Monday voting rights march held at 5 p.m. in Winston-Salem.

“In North Carolina, a literacy test is still on the books,” Barber said. “The Voting Rights Act overruled it, but it remains there as a symbol.”

“In this country we should be doing everything humanly possible to ensure all people can vote,” he added.

Trial will continue day-to-day at the federal courthouse at 251 N. Main Street, Winston-Salem, and is expected to last at least two weeks.   Read here for more on what to expect during the proceedings.