News

The week’s Top Stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Anita Earls sworn in as new Supreme Court justice in standing room only ceremony

The newest state Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls had a swearing in ceremony Thursday afternoon that drew a crowd of North Carolina’s biggest movers and shakers in both the legal and legislative world.

Earls wore a classic black skirt suit with an airy white blouse and a shiny gold and silver floral broach pinned onto the middle of her collar. She had the state Supreme Court seal pinned to her lapel. Her big smile was shining; her happiness oozed, and the hugs she gave the people in the room were genuine — it was not the state many are used to seeing her in, particularly in the courtroom. As an attorney, Earls was always the epitome of buttoned up and professional, remaining cool, calm and collected even during what could be perceived as intimidating moments. [Read more…]

2. Five takeaways from Gov. Cooper’s document dump about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Gov. Roy Cooper’s office did coordinate with state environmental officials on the timing of a key water quality permit approval and a controversial $57.8 million deal with Dominion Energy over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. But a Policy Watch review of more than 19,000 pages of public records found no evidence that the voluntary fund, outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding between Cooper’s office and Dominion, explicitly greased the way for project to proceed. Republican lawmakers have repeatedly alleged that the permit approval was contingent upon Dominion ponying up $57.8 million for a voluntary economic development fund. Both the approval and the fund were announced on the same day, Jan. 26, 2018, just 23 minutes apart.[Read more…]

3. The 9th District mess: Where things stand and what comes next

Mark Harris met with state elections investigators Thursday morning, pledging full cooperation with the board in the increasingly complex investigation into alleged ballot fraud in November’s 9th Congressional District race.

The same morning, Harris’ lawyers sued the state board of elections, asking the Wake County Superior Court to compel the board’s director to certify the election results before the investigation is complete.

As the 116th Congress was sworn in Thursday in Washington, D.C., North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District seat was the only one empty. The new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives has made it clear they will not seat anyone until questions over the legitimacy of the election have been answered.[Read more…]

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Commentary

The Faces of Poverty – a special interview with UNC Law Professor Gene Nichol

As we wind down the year, we look back at some of the newsmakers of 2018 who have lifted their voice to build a better North Carolina. Earlier this month, we were honored to sit down with Gene Nichol for an extended interview in which we discussed his new book; “The Faces of Poverty: Stories From Our Invisible Citizens”

Click below to hear the full podcast that aired last week on NC Policy Watch’s News & Views with Rob Schofield:

Nichol is Boyd Tinsley distinguished professor at the University of North Carolina. He was director of the UNC Poverty Center (2008-2015). Since 2015, his research has been supported by the N.C. Poverty Research Fund.

HB2, Legislature, News

HB2 ‘Bathroom Bill’: Costly then, costly now

It’s been more than 18 months since the repeal of HB2, yet the controversial ‘bathroom bill’ that required transgender people to use the public restrooms that corresponded to their sex at birth, continues to tarnish North Carolina’s image.

An article in The Charlotte Observer notes that the city is still dealing with fallout from the legislation (and replacement bill), and earmarking millions to market itself to travelers.

Here’s an excerpt from the the report:

HB2 was passed in 2016 under then Gov. Pat McCrory.

Included in the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority’s current 2019 budget is $2 million in “Post HB2 Marketing/Sales support,” according to email records obtained by the Observer through a public records request.

The funding is for Visit Charlotte, a division of the CRVA. Visit Charlotte received $1 million last fiscal year for post-HB2 marketing/sales support, according to the report.

The $3 million total isn’t necessarily for one ad or creative approach, CRVA spokeswoman Laura White said. Rather, she said, it’s a “comprehensive place branding strategy” that includes more money spent on Charlotte’s branding, as well as consumer-facing media like TV ads in out-of-state markets and magazine ads.

White said the increase in marketing dollars is meant to deal with three concerns: cleaning up the city’s image post-HB2; improving its reputation following civil unrest from 2016 following the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott; and promoting Charlotte in regional markets such as Austin, Texas, Nashville, Tenn., and Asheville.

In its annual report for fiscal year 2018 sent to Mayor Vi Lyles and Charlotte City Council in late October, the CRVA noted that although HB2 was technically repealed and replaced with House Bill 142, North Carolina still remains under a travel ban from six states, with California and New York having the largest impact.

States with the travel bans have indicated to local tourism officials that HB 142 “did not go far enough in protecting individuals against discrimination,” said the CRVA, which is a division of the city of Charlotte funded with local hotel/motel and prepared food taxes.

“The CRVA is still finding that conventions with a high percentage of public employees attending are choosing to not come to Charlotte because of the potential of decreased attendance, which is up to 15 percent in some cases,” the group said.

Even after the repeal, roughly one in four travelers had a negative perception of North Carolina because of HB2, according to a July 2017 study commissioned by Destinations International, a professional organization that represents destination management groups.

Read the full article here in The Charlotte Observer.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy

Editorial: Burr, Tillis failed state in partisan support for flawed judicial candidate

The Winston-Salem Journal takes Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to task for their blind and partisan support of Thomas Farr to be a US district judge in North Carolina.

The editorial board explains in its latest editorial:

Thomas Farr (L) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R)

Thomas A. Farr was a woefully bad choice to be a federal district judge in North Carolina.

Thank goodness Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, stood up for principle over blind party loyalty and announced that he would oppose Farr’s nomination. With all 49 Democrats in the Senate and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake also unwilling to vote for Farr, Scott’s opposition was all it took to sink the nomination.

Flake is opposing all of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominations until the Senate votes on a bill to protect special counsels, but he’s on record as saying he would have opposed Farr anyway. Principle is something that seems to be lacking among many Senate Republicans these days.

Where were North Carolina’s two senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, when news emerged recently about a 1991 Justice Department memo written under President George H.W. Bush — a memo that raises serious concerns about Farr’s role in racially discriminatory tactics used in Jesse Helms’ campaigns for Senate from North Carolina? They were holding firm in their support of Farr, no matter what.

Civil rights groups and others were already opposing Farr’s nomination before the memo surfaced, because of his work helping to discourage minority voters. Republicans who controlled the N.C. General Assembly hired Farr and his law firm to defend the congressional boundaries they drew in 2011 — boundaries that were eventually struck down by a federal court as racial gerrymandering. Farr also defended the 2013 N.C. voter ID law that was found to target minority voters.

Supporters in the U.S. Senate said Farr should not be judged on the basis of positions he was hired to defend. Then the 1991 memo, suggesting that Farr, as the leading lawyer for Helms’ Senate bid in 1990, had a role in devising the campaign’s controversial “ballot security” voter-suppression efforts, raised serious questions about his fitness for a lifetime appointment.

Yet Farr’s home-state senators, Burr and Tillis, still supported his nomination, making it easier for their fellow Republicans to do the same. Rather than backing a highly questionable nominee, the senators should rise above pure partisanship and work to find a good nominee for the Eastern Judicial District, which includes 44 counties from Raleigh eastward.

That judgeship has the unwelcome distinction of having been empty for nearly 13 years — the longest-lasting judicial vacancy in U.S. history. The empty seat has caused a massive backlog of cases, especially civil cases. Farr first surfaced as a nominee under President George W. Bush in 2006. That nomination went nowhere, for good reason. During his two terms, President Barack Obama tried twice to fill the seat. He nominated two well-qualified African-American women, Jennifer May Parker and, later, Patricia Timmons-Goodson. Burr blocked both. Burr’s actions are especially troubling given that the Eastern District has never had an African-American judge even though more than a quarter of its residents are black.

Then, when Trump took office, Farr’s nomination resurfaced. Who knows? With Republican gains in the Senate, the nomination might resurface next year.

Rather than stubbornly backing a flawed nominee, Burr and Tillis should encourage Trump to nominate a worthy candidate for the seat. They should do the right thing.

Read more

Defending Democracy, News, Uncategorized, Voting

NC NAACP to Gov. Cooper: Veto Voter ID implementation bill

The North Carolina NAACP is urging Governor Roy Cooper to veto Senate Bill 824: “Implementation of Voter ID Constitutional Amendment.”

Members of the civil rights group call the bill the product of “a rushed process by a lame-duck General Assembly that both has been found to be unconstitutionally-constituted by the federal courts and has been voted out of office by the people of North Carolina.”

In a letter sent to the Gov. Cooper Wednesday, NC NAACP President Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman writes:

The rushed and unusual process through which this General Assembly passed SB 824 further demonstrates how little respect the General Assembly has for voters of color. In the two short weeks immediately following the Thanksgiving holiday, this lame-duck General Assembly shepherded a complex bill with the most serious ramifications through a cursory process with few opportunities for public comment and no public examination of the bill’s impact on voters of color and other vulnerable groups. The public was given little to no notice of changes in committee meeting times, and no notice of whether and when there would be opportunities to speak. This mimics the expedited process deployed to enact the ultimately invalidated HB 589 in 2013.

The leadership of the General Assembly contends it was forced to act quickly to pass photo voter ID legislation because of the voter ID constitutional amendment that was passed this past November. But the constitutionality of that amendment itself is an open question that remains pending before the North Carolina courts. Even if implementing legislation were required, a duly-elected General Assembly – one not elected under the cloud of unconstitutionally racially – gerrymandered maps and not sitting in a lame-duck session –will be seated in just a few weeks. And there is no timeline in the text of the Constitutional Amendment that required the hurried actions taken by this legislature resulting in this suspect bill.

Finally, no new justifications have been provided by this General Assembly to rationalize the imposition of the law’s infringement upon the right to vote. A photo ID requirement does nothing to address the state’s most pressing security issues.  It has nothing to do with improving the reliability of voting equipment, safeguards for voter data, protections against foreign interference, or safeguards against the types of irregularities currently under investigation in Bladen and Robeson County. Research consistently shows that fraudulent irregularities in voting are rare, and the types of irregularities that this photo identification could aid in preventing are even rarer—in this state and nationwide.  There is simply no reason, other than the General Assembly leadership’s own improper motivations, that this hastily-ratified bill should go any farther than it already has.

Read the NC NAACP’s full letter here.