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.



If you are in Raleigh and have a chance tonight, check out this fine event hosted by the good people at Common Cause North Carolina:

Lawmakers, political scientists to talk gerrymandering during Holtzman forum

Gerrymandering — the practice of drawing electoral districts to advantage one political party over another — will be the topic of discussion when state lawmakers, political scientists and demographers gather on Nov. 11 for the annual Abe Holtzman Public Policy Forum.

From 5:30-8 p.m. in Caldwell Lounge at N.C. State University, a panel including state representatives Paul “Skip” Stam (R-Wake) and Grier Martin (D-Wake) will aim to provide greater clarity on gerrymandering, its impact and the possibility of reform.

Other members of the panel include NC State political science professors Andrew Taylor and Mark Nance, Cedar Grove Institute for Sustainable Communities Vice President Allan Parnell and Catawba College Provost and Professor of Political Science Michael Bitzer. The event is free and open to the public.

Please RSVP by clicking here.

The Holtzman Forum is named after Abe Holtzman, a longtime professor of political science at NC State whose work focused on lobbying, political parties and the relationship between the president and Congress. This forum is in honor of his legacy of passionate and effective teaching and research that for 45 years improved the lives of generations of North Carolinians.


As readers will recall, one of the most contentious battles of the 2015 legislative session was the one that centered around Guilford County Senator Trudy Wade’s efforts to remake the Greensboro City Council without the approval of Greensboro voters. As this morning’s lead editorial in the Greensboro News & Record points out, Wade’s effort received a powerful “thumbs down” from voters in yesterday’s municipal elections:

“All nine members were re-elected by wide margins — and voters agreed to lengthen terms from two years to four beginning in 2017, as the council proposed.

Coming in the midst of a months-long battle over the shape of the council, the result delivered a clear verdict. ‘The city is comfortable with the City Council it has, and it has reaffirmed that,’ Mayor Nancy Vaughan said.

State Sen. Trudy Wade sold her restructuring bill as an answer to dissatisfaction with Greensboro’s mix of district and at-large seats. An all-district system would provide more equitable representation, she said.”

Let’s hope yesterday’s vote sends a strong message to state lawmakers to give up their efforts to meddle in local government elections in areas (like Wake County) in which they don’t like the outcomes. Unfortunately, given their record of shameless interference, this seems unlikely anytime soon.


GerrymanderingIn case you missed it, Raleigh’s News & Observer is featuring an essay by one of the nation’s founding fathers today that highlights the sorry state of politics in 21st Century North Carolina.

As Elbridge Gerry — the man for whom gerrymandering was named — informs us:

“A short while ago, I read that most legislative districts in North Carolina were not even competitive, with nearly half of your General Assembly races having just one candidate on the ballot last year – effectively deciding the election before a single vote was cast. Sadly, the prime culprit depriving you of a choice at the ballot box is gerrymandering.

As someone who risked his life to establish American democracy, I must say that this is appalling. We fought our revolution for the right to decide our own fate, for the right to vote for our leaders. Now other Americans, from both political parties, are trying to take it all away.

I was really depressed when I realized this and was feeling more than a bit guilty for my role in pioneering such tactics, but lately I have seen some signs that gerrymandering may be waning.

Twenty-one states have taken the power of redistricting out of the hands of politicians and given it to independent commissions…

And about two weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court – one of our better creations when we wrote the Constitution – upheld the right of states to create these independent redistricting commissions. Justice Ginsberg got it right when she said ‘the people themselves are the originating source of all the powers of government.’

Also good news is that the U.S. Supreme Court told Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina that they needed to take another look at the way they did redistricting in the last round. They ordered Alabama to redo its map drawing and another court told Virginia to redo theirs. North Carolina is still up in the air.”

The bottom line: If even the man for whom gerrymandering was named can endorse a better path forward, surely Senator Phil Berger — the man responsible for the current mess in North Carolina — can do so. Come on Phil, don’t wait 203 years to admit your error.

Credit: Governing magazine.

Credit: Governing magazine.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled today that congressional districts redrawn by the Republican-controlled legislature violated a voter-approved constitutional amendment requiring nonpartisan map-drawing, and sent the voting maps back for a do-over.

It’s an important decision for Florida voters, who’d made clear their distaste of politicized redistricting by approving the amendment.

North Carolina, of course, has no such prohibition on partisan gerrymandering, and lawmakers in 2011 redrew congressional districts that left the state — which had a House vote that was 51 percent Democratic, 49 percent Republican — with a delegation of four Democrats and nine Republicans.

The Florida decision has little bearing on the redistricting process as it stands right now in North Carolina, but  it does offer lawmakers and voters lessons on the transparency that should underlie the process.

The Florida courts in League of Women Voters v. Detzner had the benefit of emails and other communications between lawmakers, staff and consultants which established that lawmakers had acted with improper intent in drawing maps for partisan advantage.

In the redistricting case pending here, the North Carolina Supreme Court denied requests for the disclosure of such communications — sent indirectly to involved parties through attorneys for the lawmakers — citing privilege.

And the Florida courts emphasized the need for transparency at all phases of the redistricting process, with the Supreme Court demanding as much in its order:

First, in order to avoid the problems apparent in this case as a result of many critical decisions on where to draw the lines having been made outside of public view, we encourage the Legislature to conduct all meetings in which it makes decisions on the new map in public and to record any non-public meetings for preservation.

Second, the Legislature should provide a mechanism for the challengers and others to submit alternative maps and any testimony regarding those maps for consideration and should allow debate on the merits of the alternative maps. The Legislature should also offer an opportunity for citizens to review and offer feedback regarding any proposed legislative map before the map is finalized.

Third, the Legislature should preserve all e-mails and documents related to the redrawing of the map. In order to avoid additional, protracted discovery and litigation, the Legislature should also provide a copy of those documents to the challengers upon proper request.

Finally, we encourage the Legislature to publicly document the justifications for its chosen configurations. That will assist this Court in fulfilling its own solemn obligation to ensure compliance with the Florida Constitution in this unique context, where the trial court found the Legislature to have violated the constitutional standards during the 2012 redistricting process.