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Voter IDAttorneys in the voting rights cases will be back in federal court in Winston-Salem tomorrow morning, asking U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder to order that state lawmakers must release e-mail and other communications related to the passage of North Carolina’s sweeping voter suppression law. Lawmakers have so far refused to do so, citing “legislative immunity.”

“What exactly are they hiding?” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “North Carolinians have a right to know the thinking and motivation behind lawmakers’ decision to make it harder for them to vote. Instead, legislators are concealing their intentions and cloaking their process in secrecy. The people deserve better.”

The state NAACP, the League of Women Voters and the Justice Department filed separate lawsuits in federal court in Greensboro shortly after Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 589, contending that the new law’s voter ID and other provisions violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.

The court has since consolidated those actions and set them for trial in summer 2015, but the judge has indicated that he will consider suspending the voting changes for the November 2014 elections.

The parties are now knee-deep in the discovery process, and in December plaintiffs subpoenaed several GOP lawmakers, asking them to produce documents they received or sent relating to the voting changes ultimately passed by the General Assembly.

Among the documents sought are communications with constituents, state agencies, lobbyists and political organizations regarding the reasons for voting law changes; studies and reports on voter fraud, race and ethnicity of voters; and analyses of costs associated with administering the new provisions.

State lawmakers’ files may be one of the few sources of proof for plaintiffs hoping to prove that those legislators had a discriminatory purpose in enacting House Bill 589 – a critical element in proving plaintiffs’ constitutional claims and in obtaining future preclearance relief under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act.

Emails disclosed in the 2011 Texas redistricting battle, for example, revealed that lawmakers there contemplated drawing voting lines in a way that might diminish the Hispanic vote.

But legislators here have asked the court to quash the subpoenas, claiming that they are completely protected from suit by virtue of the doctrine of “legislative immunity,” which, they say, “encompasses all aspects of the legislative process and forbids plaintiffs from seeking any production at all from the legislative movants.”

Read more about the cases, and the dispute before the court tomorrow here.

 

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Another day, another editorial condemning the efforts of legislative leaders to claim “immunity” when it comes to disclosing documents related to their passage last year of the “monster” voter suppression law.

This is from this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“Now their actions are all the more suspicious because they are hiding from public disclosure. They’re saying they don’t have to give up the emails and other documents they generated as part of their public actions because they’re protected by ‘legislative immunity.’

Their court documents get more insulting. Read More

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ICYMI, the lead editorial in the Charlotte Observer is a good one. It explains — much as NC Policy Watch Courts and Law reporter Sharon McCloskey did in this story yesterday — why the claims of legislative leaders of that “legislative immunity” somehow insulates them from disclosing the real reasons behind the voter suppression bill passed last session are completely bogus. After exploring the recent hubbub surrounding the bizarre comments of Senator Bill Rabon in the puppy mill controversy, the editorial puts it this way:

“The legislators say they are protected by ‘legislative immunity,’ which they claim not only shields them from ‘arrest or civil process for what they do in legislative proceedings,’ but also having to reveal the conversations they had during the crafting of that legislation.

Are they right? Read More

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Voter IDIf you haven’t done so already, be sure to check out Courts and Law Reporter Sharon McCloskey’s lead story over on the main Policy Watch site – “Lawmakers: What we talked about when we talked about Voter ID.” As McCloskey reports, GOP lawmakers may be forced, sooner or later, to disclose what they were really up to when they passed the controversial “Monster” voting law in 2013:

“What were state GOP lawmakers’ intentions when they enacted House Bill 589, one of the most restrictive voting laws in the nation?

That’s the question the groups challenging the law want answered by the handful of legislators they served with subpoenas in December, asking those lawmakers to produce emails, letters, reports and other records used when pushing for voting law changes last session.

The lawmakers responded last week with an opening salvo in what might become an extended battle, claiming to be completely insulated from any obligation to produce those communications.

But if the court in Greensboro follows decisions from others across the country resolving voting cases, those lawmakers may have to start digging through their files and come up with some answers. Read More

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Traditionally, official press releases issued from the offices of high public officials carry some imprimatur of solemnity and seriousness. While one realizes at some level that they’re ultimately just a way of the official in question to communicate with the media and the public, the releases still typically come with (and convey) an air of officialdom — i.e. that they are public documents issued by the public official in his or her official government capacity.

With this as background, check out a couple of recent “press releases” from Gov. Pat McCrory that sound and look more like dashed-off blog posts.

On Tuesday of this week, the Governor of North Carolina issued an official press release that was simply a reprinted Wall Street Journal editorial about the evils of extended unemployment benefits. It even included the social media abbreviation “ICYMI” in the headline – as in “ICYMI: Wall Street Journal: How to Keep Workers Unemployed.”

Then, just yesterday, the Governor issued another “official” press release. It said the following: Read More