(Graphic: Center for American Progress)

(Graphic: Center for American Progress)

Things at the U.S. Supreme Court may seem a bit quiet right now, with conferences and oral arguments not scheduled to start up again until later in the month, but don’t let that lull you into a sense of calm.

Once the justices reconvene, all hell could break loose, with same-sex marriage, Obamacare, lethal injection and redistricting among the issues being reviewed.

“The term went from being one of the more uneventful terms in recent years to potentially one of the biggest ones in a generation,” SCOTUSblog editor Amy Howe said.

For a look at what big issues have been argued and decided as well as what’s in queue, read the update by CNN’s Ariane de Vogue here.


redistricting_mapIn case you missed it yesterday, take a couple of minutes this morning to read Ned Barnett’s fine essay in the Sunday edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer in which he: a) skewers the lame claims of state redistricting bosses Robert Rucho and David Lewis that the N&O is motivated by partisan goals in editorializing (for the umpteenth time) in favor of redistricting reform and, more importantly, b) explains exactly what’s really going on right now in the redistricting battles (and why Rucho, Lewis and their pals would be smart to abandon their heavy handed manipulations). As Barnett writes:

“The Republican approach to redistricting has been embarrassingly successful. The GOP overwhelmingly controls the state legislature and holds 10 of 13 congressional seats in a state where Democrats are the predominant party. But in this success may lie the seeds of the party’s eventual loss of power. Read More


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.


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.



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.