Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Partisan gerrymandering plaintiffs ask state court to speed up proceedings

Common Cause has asked a North Carolina state court to expedite a trial over partisan gerrymandering.

The voting rights organization, along with the North Carolina Democratic Party and a group of individual voters filed a lawsuit last week in Wake County Superior Court challenging the redrawn 2017 legislative maps used in the midterm elections.

They filed a motion Tuesday to speed everything up (with a proposed timeline) and have asked the court to have a trial that begins April 15, 2019.

“It is in the overwhelming interest of both the parties and the public to resolve this case as expeditiously as possible to ensure that, if the 2017 plans are found unconstitutional, there is sufficient time to establish new, lawful districts for the 2020 primary and general elections,” the document states.

Deadlines relating to the 2020 elections are quickly approaching, according to the court document. The window for candidates to file for party primary nominations is scheduled to open Dec. 2, 2019 and primary elections will be held March 3, 2020.

A three-judge panel still has to be assigned to the case. Read the full motion to expedite below.

Motion for expedition by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

1 of ‘Alamance 12’ questions NC voter suppression, sheds light on own experience

Keith Sellars is considered one of the “Alamance 12” — the 12 people, nine of whom are Black, who were prosecuted for illegally voting in the 2016 election while on parole.

Sellars, who lives in Haw River, wrote an editorial that recently that appeared in The Herald Sun explaining his life experiences and asking why politicians would want to suppress his vote.

One in three black men in the United States has been charged with a felony. In North Carolina, black men are incarcerated at four times the rate of white men. And here, as in most states, that can mean harsh restrictions on your right to vote. So even if we think these laws are unfair, the opportunity to influence them is taken from our hands. These experiences led me to want to get involved in the political process.

I voted in the 2008 and 2012 elections. I had trouble with the law again after that, but I was committed to turning my life around. I decided to practice my right to vote once again in 2016. I was told that I could and that I should, because it was the most important election of my life. I didn’t realize at the moment that I would be targeted, prosecuted, and threatened with yet another felony — and two years in prison — for exercising that right.

For me it’s important that we call this what it is: voter suppression. Other policies — including a proposed voter ID constitutional amendment, polling site closures and early voting restrictions, and partisan and racial gerrymandering — hope to do the same. I’ve suffered severe consequences to exercise my right to vote. Is it because politicians are afraid of poor and working people like me actually having a say in how we run things?

Sellars was one of five people from the “Alamance 12” who took a plea deal to lesser charges than felony voter fraud.

As part of the deals, Alamance County prosecutors dropped all felony voting-related charges for the five voters, who were represented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. Sellars and the other four individuals each pleaded instead to a charge of misdemeanor obstruction of justice.

The were sentenced to 24 hours of community service and 12 months of unsupervised probation. You can read Sellars’ full column here.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Poll: Democrats can thank voters of color for wins across country

There would have been no blue wave across the country after the midterm elections if not for voters of color.

The NAACP, Advancement Project and African American Research Collaborative released results Monday from a poll that looked at African American voters across various competitive elections to determine how they engaged this year and how findings might shape the future of elections.

In partnership with Asian American Decisions and Latino Decisions, the African American Research Collaborative completed 9,400 interviews with Black, Latino, AAPI, Native, and white registered voters who had already voted early, or were certain to vote in the Nov. 6 general election.

Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of the NAACP, said the poll results were very telling.

“It is very simple,” he said. “African Americans are concerned about the political landscape. They want to be respected and heard.”

The key takeaway from the poll was that Democrats’ 2018 wins across the country were dependent on voters of color, particularly black voters, as a majority of white voters supported Republicans. Four out of five Black voters voted for Democrats compared to less than one-half of white voters.

At a webinar, members of each of the organizations involved with the poll pointed out that to have similar or greater wins in 2020, Democrats must invest in communities of color and the issues that matter most to those constituents.

Among some of the other findings discussed: self-organizing among Black voters made a big difference on turnout; the Black vote was particularly strong in Georgia and Nevada; anger and disrespect were major motivators for Black voters — 83 percent of the Black population polled feel disrespected by President Donald Trump (81 percent of those who felt that way were Black women).

“Black women are clearly a political force to be reckoned with and recognized,” said Judith Browne Dianis, Executive Director of the Advancement Project. “They get it.”

Dianis said Black voters brought their friends and family members to the polls with them, and that people who hadn’t shown up at previous elections turned out for the midterms.

“People of color are engaged,” she added. “They are not apathetic, and they are ready for change.”

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Lewis details some legislative plans for upcoming session on TV show

Rep. David Lewis

Rep. David Lewis

Representatives David Lewis (R-Harnett) and Darren Jackson (D-Wake) spoke about the upcoming session on an episode this week of Capital Tonight, a TV show broadcast on Spectrum News.

The lame-duck session begins Nov. 27 and GOP legislators implementing constitutional amendments while they have their last little bit of veto-proof reign. Lewis said he expects they will draft a “good” voter identification bill and address the structure of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

“Because as of December 4, we won’t have one, and it doesn’t even look like all the votes will be enacted at that point,” he said on the show, which aired Thursday night.

A three-judge Superior Court panel ruled the structure of the State Board, which was created by Republican lawmakers, unconstitutional. They wrote in a 2-1 opinion (along party lines) that the makeup of the State Board violates the separation of powers clause in the Constitution by diminishing the Governor’s control over the agency.

The current structure of the Board, per the court, would expire at midnight Dec. 3, hence Lewis’ comment about not having a Board on Dec. 4. Lewis also claimed on the show that lawmakers were working with the Governor’s Office to come up with a solution.

He said he also expected lawmakers to address hurricane relief, to draft a “very small” appointment bill and an even smaller technical corrections measure to maybe correct a spelling of something.

Capital Tonight host Tim Boyum asked Jackson, who is the House minority leader, if all of Lewis’ predictions for the session sounded right, but he didn’t know.

House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson

“We really don’t know what to expect on our side,” he said of Democrats.

Republican legislative leaders have largely left the minority party out of lawmaking since having their veto-proof majority.

The big topic of discussion on the show was the voter ID bill. North Carolinians voted to enact a voter ID requirement in the state constitution, and enabling legislation is expected to be contentious.

Lewis said lawmakers want to make sure everyone who is eligible to vote will be able to exercise that right, and he said they are looking at other voter ID laws that have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Their goal, he added, is to be even more expansive than those upheld laws they are studying.

Lewis also said House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger asked for the voter ID proposal to be sent to Jackson and Sen. Dan Blue (D-Wake) early next week to solicit feedback and input. They may even have a joint legislative hearing before the upcoming session.

Jackson told Boyum he hopes lawmakers will consider DMV and election administration resources as they move forward with their proposal.

“I just want to make sure, like Rep. Lewis said, that every voter who is eligible to vote can vote,” he added.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Trump nominee Farr could be confirmed to Eastern District judgeship by end of year

Raleigh attorney Thomas Farr could be confirmed by the end of the year to the federal bench in Eastern North Carolina

Prominent GOP attorney Thomas Farr could be confirmed to a lifetime federal judge seat in Eastern North Carolina by the end of the year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed cloture Thursday on Farr’s and Jonathan Kobes’ judicial nominations.

The U.S. District Court judgeship for the Eastern District of North Carolina has been vacant for nearly 13 years and has long been referred to as a judicial emergency.

Farr’s nomination has been deeply opposed by voting rights activists and organizations and legal stakeholders across the country. The debate about his fitness for the job has been ongoing, and cloture is a process by which McConnell seeks to end that debate and take a vote.

The NAACP strongly condemns Farr’s nomination and the Senate’s scheduling of his vote.

“The nation just experienced national elections which are not yet over and which were tainted by egregious voting rights violations,” a news release from the organization states. “That Majority Leader McConnell chooses this moment in time to vote on a judicial nominee known as the vote-suppressor-in-chief is not lost on anyone. It is a slap in the face to communities of color everywhere.”

Farr, the release states, poses a serious threat to civil rights, especially since he would preside over a jurisdiction with a large African-American population.

A Raleigh based attorney, Farr frequently represents the state’s Republican party in voting rights cases. He has been lead counsel for the GOP in redistricting cases and in the voter identification law challenge.

He was nominated by President Donald Trump last year and again this year, and if he’s not confirmed by the end of the year, he could be nominated again.

“Even among dangerous Trump nominees, Farr stands out for his decades-long crusade to disenfranchise African Americans,” the NAACP wrote. “He learned how to intimidate Black voters from segregationist Senator Jesse Helms and helped turn North Carolina into ground zero for voter suppression tactics. His nomination is a travesty. His confirmation would be heresy.”

The Eastern District of North Carolina serves 44 counties and has a combined Black population of nearly 30 percent. A black judge has never been appointed to serve on the bench, despite Obama’s nominations of Jennifer May-Parker and Patricia Timmons-Goodson — two very accomplished Black women. N.C. Sen. Richard Burr blocked both nominations.

Sen. Thom Tillis serves on the Judiciary Committee

He backs Farr, though. As does fellow N.C. Sen. Thom Tillis, who told the News and Observer that he looks forward to the floor vote.

“We urge each and every Senator to reject this judicial throwback to white supremacy and segregation,” the NAACP news release states. “The people of North Carolina and our entire country deserve better than this.”

People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker said Thursday that if McConnell and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) were looking to “illustrate their reckless and irresponsible approach to rubber stamping Trump’s dangerous judicial nominations, they couldn’t do much better” than Farr and Kobes.

Baker described both nominees as grossly unqualified for lifetime seats on the federal bench.

“Thomas Farr has been the go-to litigator for attacks on the right to vote in North Carolina,” she said in an emailed statement. “He defended the state’s aggressive campaign to disenfranchise voters in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision, its gerrymandered districts, and its efforts to throw up obstacles for eligible voters trying to register. A federal judge reviewing one law Farr defended noted that it targeted African American voters ‘with almost surgical precision.’ He also rushed to defend the state’s so-called bathroom law targeting transgender people.”

She also said a majority of the American Bar Association’s standing committee on judicial selection found Kobes to be “unqualified” for a seat on the federal bench given his paltry record.

“But he has political connections, which is all Senator Grassley needed to whisk him through the committee — again on a party line vote,” Baker wrote. “For Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, cronyism trumps responsibility every time.

She added that they may have the votes to confirm Farr and Kobes, but they can’t hide their record of “good-old-boy politics and contempt for the rights of people of color.”