Commentary

Editorial: State Supreme Court should bust tenure-busting law for teachers

The Fayetteville Observer gets it right with an editorial blasting the anti-teacher law that would transform all state educators into, in effect, “temps.” The law, which stands as one of the real signature “achievements” of conservative rule in North Carolina these past five years, is now before the state Supreme Court. Here’s the Observer:

“The battle over tenure for North Carolina teachers reached the state Supreme Court this week. We hope the justices will put this misbegotten piece of punitive legislation out of its misery.

The law, passed by the General Assembly in 2013, stripped teachers’ ability to earn “career status” after four years of satisfactory performance. Lawmakers mischaracterized it as tenure, saying it prevented school districts from firing incompetent teachers.

The truth is, if school districts use it as an excuse to keep lousy teachers in the classroom, it’s their own fault. The law specifically empowers administrators to fire bad teachers for reasons including poor performance, insubordination and immorality.”

After noting that Attorney General Cooper is, regrettably, defending the inane law, the editorial concludes this way:

“As the teachers’ association lawyer responded, if lawmakers really wanted to improve the quality of teaching in the state’s classrooms, they could have raised the performance criteria teachers must meet to keep their jobs.

We’d like to see the General Assembly do just that, instead of simply attacking anything that looks remotely like a union – a theme that has run through a considerable body of legislation for the past three years.

That, in truth, is what the tenure battle is about. Even though there are no public-employee unions in North Carolina – they’re already banned by law – lawmakers appear determined to rid the state of any protection that looks even remotely union-ish. Hence a war on a tenure status that doesn’t exist.

Teachers have earned what little job protection they do have. In fact, it was promised to them as a benefit of their employment. That’s why the court should strike down this law.”

Commentary

GOP support for the free market and competition? Not when it comes to NC elections

For a group of politicians so passionate about the “genius” of “free markets” and “competition,” North Carolina’s conservative leaders sure do whistle a different tune when it comes to elections. In case you missed it, the lead Sunday editorial in the Greensboro News & Record explains:

“It’s disappointing that 2016 will be another year of limited political competition in North Carolina. That’s intentional, and the design was just reaffirmed by the state Supreme Court.

While there are plenty of candidates running for governor, the U.S. Senate and some congressional seats, many legislative seats will be uncontested.

On ballots next November, 57 out of 120 state House races and 15 out of 50 state Senate contests will show just one candidate — barring the late entry of independent contenders via petition.

No wonder, when legislators drew their own districts. While they may favor competition in education or business, they fear competition in politics and do everything they can to avoid it.”

Unfortunately, as the editorial goes on to explain, North Carolina’s GOP-controlled Supreme Court recently upheld the scheme and its transparent packing of minority voters into a handful of districts:

“The North Carolina court majority found it permissible to use the 50 percent-plus standard for minority districts. It wasn’t concerned about the partisan motives of Republican legislators. Traditionally, redistricting has been an exercise meant to gain partisan advantage. Democrats did it when they were in power, and Republicans are even better at it.

The losers are voters who ought to have more choices and better government. The state should have an independent redistricting system. If such a system were proposed in a referendum, it would pass overwhelmingly, as it has in other states. But only the legislature can propose a constitutional amendment and referendum, and it’s under no political or legal pressure to allow fair competition.”

In other words, as is so often the case with the American Right, competition is a great thing — except when it interferes with the power and prerogatives of the mostly wealthy white men who dominate the American Right.

News

SCOTUS sends NC redistricting case back to state Supreme Court for a do-over

The U.S. Supreme Court sent the North Carolina redistricting case back to the state Supreme Court this morning for further review in light of the high court’s recent decision in a similar Alabama case.

The North Carolina groups and individuals who initially sued lawmakers in state court — contending that the state’s 2011 plan constituted an unlawful racial gerrymander — filed papers in January asking the justices to review the state Supreme Court’s 2014 decision upholding the plan.

Then in late March, the nation’s highest court decided the Alabama case — applying a different analysis than that used by our state justices and sending that state’s plan back to the trial court for further review. (For more on the relationship between the Alabama and the North Carolina cases read here.)

The Court ruled that race predominated in an Alabama redistricting plan which moved black voters into majority-minority districts in order to prevent the percentage of minority voters from declining, and that such race-based redistricting must be strictly scrutinized.

Five days later, the court likewise sent a case raising similar issues regarding Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District, Cantor v. Personhuballah, back down for further review.

The challengers of the North Carolina plan — relying in part upon the analysis in the Alabama decision — argued in papers recently filed with the Supreme Court that our state maps should also be strictly scrutinized and rejected as race-based gerrymanders.

With today’s order, the state Supreme Court will now have to review the 2011 redistricting plan using those parameters.

Here’s the order:

Dickson GVR

 

News

In State of the Judiciary speech, Martin lauds the work of the courts and asks for support

In the first “State of the Judiciary” speech given to the General Assembly since 2001, North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin invoked the Magna Carta, introduced lawmakers to the judiciary’s work during challenging economic times and urged them to appreciate the need for better funding in order to ensure the integrity of the state’s judicial system.

“Think about what it will mean if the people of this great State cannot rely on us to promptly administer justice,” Martin said.

“How can we explain that to the victims of violent crime and their families? How can we explain that to the small-business owners who need a contract dispute resolved in order to keep their store open and avoid bankruptcy? How can we explain that to the family that lost a loved one because of a drunk driver? We must be able to provide them with justice.”

Martin recognized that all branches of government had sustained cuts during the recession, but noted that court budget deficiencies had existed long before.

“Even before the start of the Great Recession, in 2007, North Carolina ranked 49th out of 50 states in terms
of per capita spending on the judicial branch,” Martin said. “Five years later, in 2012, we ranked 45th out
of the 50 states using the same source data as corroborated by the highly-respected National
Center for State Courts.”

The Chief Justice compared the courts budget to the budgets of other critical entities. “By way of illustration, one county’s annual budget for the public school system in fiscal year 2014-15 is nearly $1.5 billion,” he said. “The entire justice system budget, for all 100 counties, is only $464 million. This means that the entire Judicial Branch budget is less than one-third of the Wake County Public School System’s budget.”

The courts have nonetheless been doing yeoman’s work to make do with less, he added, and offered a number of illustrations.

Personnel cuts have left the courts understaffed by 536 positions, per studies by the National Center for State Courts, Martin noted.

“I am told that assistant clerks and court employees are taking second and even third jobs to make ends meet,” he said. “Magistrates and assistant clerks of court pitched in to help each other when they did not have enough staff to get the work done. Deputy Sheriffs and security guards also lent a hand while vigilantly protecting our courthouses from those who would do us harm.”

Martin also pointed out other efficiencies achieved in procurement and technology that he hoped could be extended statewide.  For example:

Our courts in Alamance County offer another prime example of efficiency through innovation. That Judicial District offers a unique option for domestic violence victims. They can electronically file for a protective order and have a remote video hearing with a judge, all from a safe and secure location. Protective orders are then sent electronically to the Sheriff for service on the alleged abuser. This project has already won two national public sector innovation awards.

He added that the Administrative Office of the Courts was now in the process of developing a master plan for instituting electronic filing in courts statewide.

He also recognized the work of family courts, which have often teetered on the chopping block:

Family courts are operating in a fourth of the state, providing effective case management to almost half of the State’s citizens. The median age of a pending domestic case in a Family Court District on December 31, 2014 was 113 days as compared to 392 days in non-Family Court Districts. Family Courts are an example of specialty courts that are working to process cases through the court system in a timely manner, while helping bring closure and stability to families.

But the judicial system’s efforts at making do with less are not enough to ensure that the fair and impartial administration of justice occurs in North Carolina.

That can be seen in delays in criminal trials, he said.

In order to bring a felony criminal case to trial, among other things, a grand jury indictment must be returned and often times lab results must be obtained. I am told that delays of more than a year have become the norm, rather than the exception, for lab results of blood-alcohol tests in DWI cases and DNA analysis in serious felony cases. These delays undermine the ability of our criminal justice system to deter crime and do justice.

Martin said that he’d be convening a multi-disciplinary commission to evaluate the justice system and make recommendations on strengthening the courts within the existing administrative framework and hoped that its work would be available for the start of the 2017 long session.

Read Chief Justice Martin’s speech in full here.

 

 

 

Commentary

Luncheon will explore school voucher case, preview Supreme Court argument

Mark your calendar for the next N.C. Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon on Tuesday, February 10:

“The constitutional challenge to school vouchers: Where do things stand? What happens next?”

Click here to register

For the time being, school vouchers have come to North Carolina. Thanks to the state’s conservative political leadership, several million dollars in taxpayer money now flow to unaccountable private and religious schools throughout the state.

Last summer, state Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood struck down the voucher plan as unconstitutional saying: “The General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything.”

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Since that time, however, both of the state’s higher courts have allowed the voucher program to proceed. Meanwhile, the case challenging its constitutionality has been fast-tracked for final argument. On February 17, lawyers for both sides will appear before the state Supreme Court to make their cases.

What will the parties say? What should we expect to happen? What can and should concerned citizens do?

Please join us as we explore the answers to these questions and others with one of the lead plaintiffs in the constitutional challenge to the law, former State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mike Ward. (Pictured above, right)

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Ward will be joined by two of the state’s leading education policy advocates, attorneys Christine Bischoff (picture far left) of the North Carolina Justice Center and Jessica Holmes (pictured at left) of the North Carolina Association of Educators.

Don’t miss the chance to get fully up to speed on this important issue at this critical juncture.

When: Tuesday, February 10, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: The North Carolina Association of Educators Building, 700 S. Salisbury St., Raleigh, NC 27601

Space is limited – preregistration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

Click here to register

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com