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ACLU marriage equality

Image: ACLU of North Carolina

Court decisions have been coming in a fast and furious fashion in recent days — so fast that many may be left scratching their heads by Judge Osteen’s ruling yesterday on marriage equality.

If you’re one of the thousands who’s saying to him or herself this morning something like “What the heck? I though Judge Cogburn settled this last week,” the good folks at the ACLU of North Carolina issued a statement late yesterday that explains the deal:

Second Federal Judge Rules N.C. Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

GREENSBORO – U.S. District Judge William Osteen today ruled that North Carolina’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional. He is the second federal judge to do so in five days. The ruling came in two lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn issued a separate ruling that struck down North Carolina’s marriage ban and added North Carolina to the list of states to extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples. Judge Osteen, who was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush, also gave North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger the ability to intervene in the case on appeal.

“Judge Osteen’s ruling is the second in five days to declare North Carolina’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples to be unconstitutional,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina. “This second ruling further emphasizes that North Carolina’s now-defunct marriage ban was discriminatory and denied same-sex couples their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection under the law. The legislature can attempt to pursue an appeal if they so choose; however, that would only unnecessarily expend taxpayer resources. North Carolinians can rest assured: the freedom to marry is here to stay.”

Background:

The ACLU filed the first legal challenge to North Carolina’s marriage ban in June 2013 when it amended a 2012 lawsuit seeking second parent adoption rights for six families headed by same-sex couples. The adoption lawsuit, Fisher-Borne, et al. v. Smith, was originally filed in June 2012, just weeks after passage of the state’s marriage ban, known as Amendment One, which the ACLU lobbied and campaigned against. In April 2014, the ACLU filed a second lawsuit, Gerber and Berlin, et al. v. Smith, challenging North Carolina’s marriage ban on behalf of three married same-sex couples, one member of which has a serious medical condition.

Commentary

Some seats still remain for tomorrow’s Crucial Conversation luncheon – “Dirty money, dirty water: The end of judicial campaign public financing in North Carolina.”

The event will feature Billy Corriher, the Director of Research for Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., where his work focuses on state courts and the influence of political contributions on judges.

Corriher will be joined by Chris Kromm, Executive Director of the Durham-based Institute for Southern Studies and one of North Carolina’s best-known muckrakers. When: Tuesday, September 30, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Space is limited – pre-registration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

Click here to register

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

News

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled today that Ohio’s attempts to limit early voting — a subject that will be argued tomorrow in front of the Fourth Circuit when it considers North Carolina’s recently enacted voting restrictions — are in fact unconstitutional. This is from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

A federal appeals court on Wednesday affirmed a district court decision restoring early voting cuts and expanding early voting hours.

The ruling from the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals is a setback for Secretary of State Jon Husted, who had appealed a lower court’s order that he expand early voting hours.

The three-judge panel previously rejected a request to delay the court order pending Husted’s appeal. Husted then expanded statewide early, in-person voting hours while the case proceeded.

Civil rights groups and several African-American churches sued state officials in May over a new state law eliminating “Golden Week,” a week-long window when people could both register to vote and cast a ballot in Ohio, and a statewide early, in-person voting schedule that did not include Sundays. Attorneys led by the American Civil Liberties Union successfully argued in U.S. Southern District Court that the reduced number of days burdened low-income and African-American Ohioans who are more likely to take advantage of Golden Week and Sunday voting.

U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Economus agreed. He ruled that once Ohio granted a broad scheme of early, in-person voting, state officials could not reduce it in a way that burdened certain groups of voters.

Read the court’s unanimous ruling by clicking here.

News
Loretta Biggs

Former North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Loretta Biggs – Photo: Allman, Spry, Davis, Leggett and Crumpler -www.allmanspry.com

Though Senator Richard Burr continues to block his nomination of federal prosecutor Jennifer May-Parker to serve as a  U.S. District Court judge for North Carolina’s Eastern District, President Obama acted yesterday to fill another, newer North Carolina federal judicial vacancy when he nominated former state Court of Appeals judge Loretta Copeland Biggs of Winston-Salem to fill a seat in the  state’s Middle District.

This is from the White House announcement:

Judge Loretta Copeland Biggs has been a partner at Allman Spry Davis Leggett Crumpler, PA, since May 2014 and previously was a partner and managing shareholder at Davis Harwell Biggs, PA, from 2003 to 2014. From 2001 to 2002, Judge Biggs served as a Judge on the Court of Appeals of North Carolina. From 1994 to 2001, she worked in the United States Attorneys Office for the Middle District of North Carolina, serving as Executive Assistant United States Attorney from 1997 to 2001. Judge Biggs also served as a Judge on the Forsyth County District Court from 1987 to 1994 and as an Assistant District Attorney in Forsyth County from 1984 to 1987. She began her legal career as Staff Counsel for The Coca-Cola Company from 1979 to 1982. Judge Biggs received her J.D. with honors in 1979 from Howard University School of Law and her B.A. cum laude in 1976 from Spelman College.

Congressman G.K. Butterfield, who has worked to push the White House to diversify the federal bench in North Carolina, issued a statement praising the nomination: Read More

Commentary

Richard Burr 2Those looking for some good news from the nation’ capital — any good news — got a small dose over the weekend in this story in the New York Times about the Obama administration’s progress in restoring a measure of balance to the federal judiciary. As the Times reported, after five years and an important rule change to limit the use of the filibuster in the Senate, the federal courts are, today, somewhat less completely under the thumb of the corporate and ideological right.

The shift, one of the most significant but unheralded accomplishments of the Obama era, is likely to have ramifications for how the courts decide the legality of some of the president’s most controversial actions on health care, immigration and clean air. Since today’s Congress has been a graveyard for legislative accomplishment, these judicial confirmations are likely to be among its most enduring acts.

One ongoing and absurd exception to this progress, however, is Senator Richard Burr’s shameful and unexplained blockade of federal District Court nominee Jennifer May-Parker, which is now going on 15 months old. Given the progress that the U.S. Senate has made in this realm by dispensing with filibuster on such matters, let’s hope Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont soon takes the next logical step by doing away with the obsolete and egregiously-abused “blue slip” rule that is enabling Burr’s petulant, one-man Jess Helms impersonation.

Read the entire Times article by clicking here.