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ICYMI, the editorial page of the Charlotte Observer features another great op-ed this morning that was co-authored by former Raleigh mayor, Charles Meeker (a Democrat) and former Charlotte mayor, Richard Vinroot (a Republican). The subject: the urgent need for redistricting reform.

As their honors note:

As former mayors of North Carolina’s two largest cities, we know how important it is to have a government that fairly represents the people, and in which voters have confidence. And we believe that the way we have drawn maps in North Carolina for the past five decades or longer has undermined citizens’ confidence in our government, created highly partisan legislative districts and caused gridlock.

We also believe that North Carolinians have had enough. For that reason, we, and other North Carolinians who care about the value of our vote and the future of our state, are supporting a transparent, impartial and fair process for redistricting. We urge you to join us.

The model we support is based on the way Iowa has drawn its maps since 1980. Their maps are required to have districts that are compact, contiguous and follow state and federal law. They cannot be drawn based on the political makeup of districts, past voter turnout or other partisan factors. Instead, the maps are drawn by professionals, reviewed by citizens and then approved or disapproved by the legislature in a timely fashion.

We respectfully urge the newly elected members of the N.C. General assembly – many of whom have expressed support for our proposal in their public statements – to work with us by passing impartial, fair, nonpartisan redistricting reform in 2015. In our view, there is no better way to show respect for our voters and improve our democracy!

To which all a caring and thinking person can say is “hear, hear!” and “if only a majority of our current General Assembly was comprised of caring and thinking politicians.”

Click here to read the rest of the op-ed.

News

Supreme courtThe Supreme Court issued its first order list of the term this morning, with no decision yet on the seven pending same-sex marriage petitions.

The Court did take 11 new cases though, including a housing discrimination case out of Texas, a redistricting case out of Arizona and a campaign finance case out of Florida.

The housing case, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., raises the question of whether disparate impact claims can be asserted under the Fair Housing Act.  It is the third such case the Court has taken in the past three years. The two previous cases settled before the justices could rule on the “disparate impact” question — Mt. Holly in 2013 and  Magner v. Gallagher in 2012.

The redistricting case, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, involves that state’s use of a commission (as opposed to its legislature) to adopt congressional districts.

And the campaign finance case, Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, asks whether a state judicial conduct rule prohibiting judges from personally soliciting campaign funds violates the First Amendment.

As  Adam Liptak noted in Sunday’s New York Times, writing about judges on the campaign trail:

Thirty of the states that elect judges ban such personal requests. Every state supreme court to address the bans has said they are justified by the need to protect the integrity of the judiciary and public confidence in the judicial system.

But federal appeals courts are split on the issue. Four of them, collectively covering 23 states, have struck down solicitation bans. In May, for instance, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco,struck down Arizona’s ban, at least as applied to candidates for judicial office who are not yet judges.

This is not a concern in North Carolina, however, because the code of judicial conduct here expressly allows judges to personally solicit campaign funds.

News

NCSupremeCourt

After more than 20 years on the state Supreme Court, Chief Justice Sarah Parker stepped down on Saturday, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 72 in August.

Her picture has already been removed from the court’s website, with one of the newly-appointed temporary chief, Justice Mark Martin, taking its place.

Her legacy drew praise from colleagues and contemporaries alike.

“Sarah is a quintessential professional,” former justice Bob Orr said in this post. “She has a sense of the history and tradition of the court as well as the system. She’s been a good chief justice in difficult times.”

Parker was mindful of those difficult times, especially near the end of her tenure, as the court itself became increasingly politicized and the state’s judicial system struggled under the weight of draconian budget cuts. She drew attention to both of those problems in her remarks to the state bar association this summer.

With her departure the court has just six justices serving — at least for this week.  Next week, Court of Appeals Judge Bob Hunter, Jr. will temporarily fill the spot vacated by Justice Martin.

Six is a tough number for parties awaiting a decision from the state’s highest court. If the justices are split three to three on an issue, then no decision follows. Rather, the decision of the court below stands.

And while the interim ascension of Judge Hunter will make seven, for all practical purposes nothing will change, as he’ll have to recuse himself from ruling in cases on which he sat in the Court of Appeals or in which he hasn’t participated while on the Supreme Court.

That includes the 15 or so cases argued this past year for which a decision is still pending.

And among those are some of the weightiest and most controversial issues facing the court this term: redistricting and the Racial Justice Act.

In those cases, with this composition on the court, it’s at least possible that with six, you get nothing.

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Credit: Governing magazine.

Credit: Governing magazine.

As the case challenging North Carolina’s 2011 redistricting plan languishes in state Supreme Court, two similar cases out of Alabama that may bear directly on the legality of our state maps are set for argument in the U.S. Supreme Court this fall.

In Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabamaparties are challenging the legality of “packing” minority voters into districts where they already are in political control, reducing their impact elsewhere.

As summarized by SCOTUSblog:

Both [cases] challenge decisions by a federal district court that upheld (by a split two-to-one vote) a new boundary map that kept the  same number of state senate and state house districts that previously had majorities of African-American voters, but added to those majorities in almost every district.  Sponsors of the plan insisted they were doing so to obey their obligations to protect minority voters’ political strength under federal voting rights law, but the challengers argued that this was an unconstitutional use of racial gerrymandering.

In both the Alabama cases and the case pending here (Dickson v. Rucho), state lawmakers have argued that the Voting Rights Act required them to redraw districts and pack African-American voters into districts — even though those voters, while still a minority of the voting age population in their previous districts, had been electing their candidates of choice.

The viability of that argument will be before the nation’s highest court in the fall, and yesterday — in a friend-of-the-court brief filed there — attorneys for the parties challenging the North Carolina maps urged the justices to reject redistricting on that basis as “an unconstitutional use of race that must be corrected.”

Here is an excerpt from that brief:

This Court reiterated in Bartlett v. Strickland the well-established principle that the “‘moral imperative of racial neutrality is the driving force of the Equal Protection Clause,’ and racial classifications are permitted only ‘as a last resort.’” The Court further cautioned that “[o]ur holding also should not be interpreted to entrench majority-minority districts by statutory command, for that, too, could pose constitutional concerns.”

The North Carolina legislature, like the Alabama legislature, misapplied these principles in the 2011 redistricting by imposing a racial proportionality target for the number of majority-black districts and requiring every district to meet a specific black population percentage target. As in Alabama, the North Carolina General Assembly believed that these fixed racial targets were required by the Voting Rights Act.

Ignoring decades of progress in increasing opportunities for black voters to participate in the political process, in 2011 the General Assembly created more majority-black districts than ever before, thereby entrenching racial stereotypes and tearing apart effective cross-racial coalitions that had evolved over time. The General Assembly’s use of racial targets in redistricting was justified only by the mistaken belief that they were required by federal law. In addition to North Carolina and Alabama, there is only one other redistricting case, currently pending in Virginia, in which it is alleged that the Legislature admittedly and explicitly used racial targets in drawing districts.

Thus, what is needed here is not a revision of voting rights jurisprudence; nor will reversal of the trial court result in significant upheaval of redistricting maps throughout jurisdictions formerly covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Rather, the misinterpretation of the Voting Rights Act’s requirements resulting in the unfair imposition of racial targets in redistricting in a few states is an unconstitutional use of race that must be corrected.

Read the full brief here.

 

 

 

 

 

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The good people at Common Cause NC will be holding a news conference in Charlotte today. This is from the announcement:

“Former Charlotte mayor Richard Vinroot, a Republican and former Raleigh mayor Charles Meeker, a Democrat will be announcing today their partnership in seeking to end gerrymandering in North Carolina.

Both mayors want politics taken out of the redistricting process and will be creating a new coalition called
North Carolinians to End Gerrymandering Now

When: News conference- noon (Thursday, May 8, 2014)
Where: Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson law office board room, suite 1900 101 N. Tryon Street, downtown Charlotte”

Let’s hope the event (and notably the presence of longtime conservative Republican Richard Vinroot) has the desired impact — especially on the conservative state senate which has blocked redistricting reform previously.