Board of Elections opens up state Supreme Court race

This post has been updated to reflect the filing of an appeal by the state. See below.

State-Supreme-Court-400In the wake of an order entered last week by a three-judge Superior Court panel striking down the judicial retention election law as unconstitutional, the state Board of Elections has opened up a new filing period for candidates wishing to run for the Supreme Court seat currently held by Justice Robert H. Edmunds Jr.

Under that law, Edmunds would have been subjected to an up-or-down vote as opposed to facing off against a challenger.

Here’s the relevant excerpt from today’s BOE announcement:

Qualified candidates may file from noon on Wednesday, March 16 to noon on Friday, March 25 at the State Board of Elections office at 441 North Harrington Street in Raleigh.  The filing fee for this office is 1% of the salary. If required, a primary will be held on June 7 to coincide with the primary for U.S. House of Representatives.

The Board acted to ensure that the election could move forward in the absence of any further judicial intervention, should at least two more candidates file, warranting a primary.

New candidates will have some catching up to do, as Justice Edmunds organized his re-election campaign more than a year ago and had raised $86,000 as of the end of February.

For more on the pending lawsuit in Faires v. NC Board of Elections, click here.

(UPDATE:  The state has filed an appeal of the decision in Faires, and the parties in the case have jointly asked to state Supreme Court to expedite briefing and oral argument in order to have a resolution as far ahead of the general election in November as possible.  What this means for the filing and primary calendar set down by the state Board of Elections today is unclear. At the very least, the uncertainty of whether a contested election November will even be allowed in November will have some chilling effect on the willingness of potential candidates to file and fund a campaign.)

Fees, fees and more fees

moneyVoting rights, redistricting, coal ash, same-sex marriage, “Choose Life” license plates, Charlotte airport, Asheville Water system, school vouchers, pre-K funding — the list of lawsuits filed against the state challenging recently-enacted laws continues to grow, as does the amount of taxpayer dollars being spent for outside counsel.

Add to that a reported $850,000 racked up for attorneys selected by the state to represent the Department of Transportation in cases challenging the Map Act — the decades-old law DOT has been using to tie up land along the path of proposed road construction, according to a report by WBTV.

Pursuant to the Act, the DOT can file a map with the local register of deeds identifying property where it anticipates building a road and protect that property from development or other action that might improve its value — in effect holding down the purchase price until the DOT is ready to buy.

Since 2010, hundreds of landowners with property located within one of the protected corridors have filed lawsuits to compel the state to buy their land.

And a challenge to the Act’s constitutionality is pending before the state Supreme Court.

Here’s more:

NCDOT has contracted with four law firms to defend itself against the hundreds of cases filed against it in court.

The four firms work with attorneys from the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office to defend the state.

As of January 2016, state had paid the four firms a total of $850,983.20.

NCDOT defends its use of outside attorneys by pointing to the large volume of cases filed in recent years.

“Because they did not have the internal legal resources to handle the high volume of cases, lawyers from the attorney generals office recommend the four outside counsel groups now representing the state in the 290 lawsuits filed against NCDOT, based on those firms’ previous experience with the map act issue,” NCDOT spokesman Mike Charbonneau said.

One of the firms is that of North Carolina Senator Fletcher Hartsell (R-Cabarrus).

Fletcher’s firm, Hartsell & Williams in Concord, has just 18 cases but has billed more than a quarter million dollars since May 2015, invoices obtained by On Your Side Investigates show.

Hartsell did not respond to multiple requests for comment seeking to clarify how his firm came to be hired by the state and what steps, if any, he takes to ensure there is no conflict of interest on his part.

To read more about the Map Act, click here.


Opening a can of whoop ass at the Supreme Court

Supreme courtReaders can find plenty of media recaps of yesterday’s Supreme Court argument over Texas abortion restrictions, but this one from Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick is one to catch, lauding as it does the performance of the women on the court who refused to be silenced. (Included in this group is Justice Stephen Breyer, whom Lithwick calls “one of history’s great feminists.”)

Here’s the opener:

On one side, you have a group of testy male justices needling a female lawyer for Texas clinics about whether it was even appropriate for them to hear this appeal. On the other, you’ve got four absolutely smoking hot feminists pounding on Texas’ solicitor general for passing abortion regulations that have no plausible health purpose and also seem pretty stupid.

It felt as if, for the first time in history, the gender playing field at the high court was finally leveled, and as a consequence the court’s female justices were emboldened to just ignore the rules. Time limits were flouted to such a degree that Chief Justice John Roberts pretty much gave up enforcing them. I counted two instances in which Roberts tried to get advocates to wrap up as Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor simply blew past him with more questions. There was something wonderful and symbolic about Roberts losing almost complete control over the court’s indignant women, who are just not inclined to play nice anymore.

Lithwick then goes on to detail the several exchanges between the justices and attorneys in the case revealing the absurd premises upon which the state’s “targeted regulations against abortion providers,” or TRAP laws, were ostensibly built.

Here’s Justice Sonia Sotomayor, incredulous when she learns that with a pill-induced abortion, the patient needs to be in the clinic.

“I’m sorry. What? She has to come back two separate days to take them? … When she could take it at home, it’s­­ now she has to travel 200 miles or pay for a hotel to get those two days of treatment?”

The absence of Justice Antonin Scalia (“three times larger in his absence than even his outsize presence used to be”) plays a part in this takedown, Lithwick notes, leaving a void which his remaining conservative colleagues just seem incapable of filling, with questions amounting to what he would have called “weak applesauce.”

And projecting out, she closes by wondering if his ultimate successor would add any more to the tempest that the women on the court whipped up yesterday.

Says Lithwick:

If the case is sent back to Texas on remand, we will play this out again in a few years with nine justices. But it’s hard to imagine President Obama conjuring up, from even the darkest, most devious underground lab, a new justice who would be half as fierce as the four-car train of whoop ass we saw today.


Clarence Thomas speaks

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For the past decade U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has asked nary a question during oral argument in cases before the high court — a point of considerable discussion and criticism over those years.

But today, in a somewhat low-profile case about gun ownership by individuals convicted of domestic violence, Thomas broke his self-imposed vow of silence, interrupting a prosecutor winding up her argument in favor of a gun ban.

“Ms. Eisenstein, one question,” Thomas said, followed by audible gasps in the courtroom.

“Can you give me another area where a misdemeanor violation suspends a constitutional right?”

Thomas then followed up with several more questions, stunning those inside and out of the courtroom and firing up plenty of reaction on social media.

His questions, coming just weeks after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia (beside whom he sat on the bench for seven years), prompted some to connect the two events.

“It was hard to escape the conclusion that the absence of the voluble Justice Scalia, who had dominated Supreme Court arguments for nearly 30 years on the bench, somehow liberated Justice Thomas and allowed him to resume participating in the court’s most public activity,” Adam Liptak of the New York Times wrote.

Below, a few highlights of reactions on social media.

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At least somebody’s working in Washington

“A sterling record.  A deep respect for the judiciary’s role.  An understanding of the way the world really works.”

That’s what President Barack Obama is looking for in the Supreme Court nominee he intends to name soon, per his post on SCOTUSblog this morning.

Despite protestations by Senate Republicans who announced yesterday that they would not hold any hearings on an Obama nominee, the president made clear that he at least will be doing the job millions of Americans elected him to do.

Here’s more from his post (in full here):

The Constitution vests in the President the power to appoint judges to the Supreme Court.  It’s a duty that I take seriously, and one that I will fulfill in the weeks ahead.

It’s also one of the most important decisions that a President will make.  Rulings handed down by the Supreme Court directly affect our economy, our security, our rights, and our daily lives.

Needless to say, this isn’t something I take lightly.  It’s a decision to which I devote considerable time, deep reflection, careful deliberation, and serious consultation with legal experts, members of both political parties, and people across the political spectrum.