Five things to know about the next big North Carolina voting rights case

Image; AdobeStock

Moore v. Harper case could free states to alter the fundamentals of federal elections

The U.S. Supreme Court is prepared to hear Moore v. Harper later this year, an important case that could upend how elections are conducted across the country.

What’s at stake:

  • The case involves a fringe legal theory called the “independent state legislature theory.”
  • North Carolina state lawmakers used the theory in a bold attempt to dodge a landmark state court ruling that struck down their gerrymandered voting maps in a lawsuit filed by our North Carolina office

Here are five things to know about the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case, the so-called “independent state legislature theory,” and how Common Cause is defending our rights for a free and fair democracy where every vote counts.

 1.) There’s no historical basis. The “independence state legislature theory” would reverse decades of legal precedent by taking away the ability of state courts to review whether state lawmakers followed the law when it comes to setting election policies.  It’s akin to pulling the referee out of a game midway, and just hoping the players on the field stick to the rules.

The nation’s highest court, if it goes along with this long shot of a legal appeal, would also be contradicting itself. Just three years ago, in Rucho v. Common Cause, the Supreme Court pointed to state courts as the ones who should decide if partisan gerrymandering is permissible in the redistricting process. And in 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in an Arizona case that the court interpreted mention of “legislature” to include the entire legislative process, not just the state legislature itself.

2.) This decision could upend our nation’s election systems. U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) summed up the worst-case-scenario in a Congressional hearing about the “independent state legislature theory” held last week.

“Professional, nonpartisan election administration is a cornerstone of the modern American right to vote,” Lofgren said. “That entire apparatus could vanish overnight, at least for federal elections.”

Removing the ability of the state judiciary to review decisions regarding our federal elections, from voting maps to whether early voting hours should be extended or curtailed, will give partisan interests more ability to manipulate decisions to their liking.

Simply put, it would change how we’ve run elections in the United States for more than 200 years. Read more

UNC Board of Governors face protest, chooses new board chair and interim president

It was a busy day at the final meeting of the year for the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors meeting.

A half-dozen group of student and faculty protesters disrupted Friday’s meeting with their objections to the selection of Margaret Spellings as the next UNC president, according to WRAL.

Spellings served as President George W. Bush’s education secretary, and some have questioned her ties to for-profit higher education companies.

Friday’s meeting was also the final board meeting for UNC President Tom Ross.

Junius Gonzales, the system’s senior vice-president of academic affairs, was selected to serve as the interim president until Spellings arrives in North Carolina in March to take over as president.

Junius Gonzales (left) and Louis Bissette (right)

Junius Gonzales (left) and Louis Bissette (right)

Gonzales, a psychiatrist who came to the UNC system last year after working at the University of Texas at El Paso, will take on the interim president role on Jan. 4, the day after Ross’ officially leaves, according to a news release from the UNC system.

The UNC board also chose its new chair, Louis Bissette, an Asheville attorney. Bissette, the vice-chair for the board, had stepped in after John Fennebresque resigned his position and left the board days after Spellings was hired.

To read more about Friday’s meeting, and the Spellings protests, read this piece by WRAL’s Mark Binker, or this account by the News & Observer.

Company gets economic development dollars, as it moves jobs from one NC city to another

Earlier this week, the McCrory administration announced what seemed to be a big win for the state – Corning Optical Communications is moving its headquarters to Charlotte, bringing 650 people to work in the area.

The fiber optic cable manufacturing company ‘s new headquarters will have space for 150 new workers, a designation that makes the company eligible for $2.35 million over the next 12 years from the state’s Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG) program.

Gov. Pat McCrory and John Skvarla, McCrory’s commerce secretary, trumpeted the move in a press release sent out earlier this week.

“Today’s announcement builds on the solid foundation this innovative company has in our state, and I am proud we emerged as the top choice for this important headquarters and the new jobs that come with it,” McCrory said, in a written statement released by his office Tuesday.

But not mentioned in the press release from the McCrory administration is that 500 of the 650 jobs are coming to Charlotte from an hour away – in Hickory.

“We’re very disappointed,” said Rudy Wright, the Hickory mayor, about the loss of several hundred high-paying jobs from his community of 40,000 in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Wright said his city had tried to keep the jobs in Catawba County, putting together what he described as a “tremendous offer.” He heard the company was also considering moving to South Carolina, and found out this week the jobs would soon be leaving Hickory.

Wright declined to specify what Hickory’s offer was, saying that publicizing that information would put the city at a disadvantage when negotiating future economic development deals. Corning will still maintain a manufacturing plant in Hickory, where more than 1,000 people are employed.

But the move of so many to a new headquarters will be tough for Hickory.

“Those highly paid people are consumers of goods and services, they’re residents, they use our schools, they bring brain power to our city,” Wright said. “This is a very important group to us.”

The move by Corning to Charlotte to Hickory highlights one of the bigger issues the state faces in its economic recovery. The state’s bustling urban centers, based in Charlotte and Raleigh, have steadily rebounded from the Recession while those in other metro or rural areas of the state have struggled to attract new employers.

Wright said he hopes to see those jobs replaced soon, and is focused on looking forward instead of getting upset about the company’s selection of Charlotte over Hickory.

“We accept the hand that is dealt,” he said.

Top state Sen. Apodaca leaving state legislature, vacancies abound

There’s some more shakeup in the state legislature, with today’s announcement by powerful state Sen. Tom Apodaca that he won’t run again.

N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca

N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca

Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican, told the Charlotte Observer that he was ready to leave the politics, given the changes the state has seen since Republicans took over both houses of the state legislature in 2010.

“We’ve come to a point where we’ve accomplished almost everything we set out to,” Apodaca told the Charlotte Observer Monday. “Politics has never been the driving force in my life.”

As the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, he had the ability to decide which pieces of legislation made it to the floor for a vote, and which would languish.

N.C. Senate President Pro-Tem Phil Berger, in a statement released Monday, said Apodaca had been a key figure in bringing the agendas of the Republican senate caucus to fruition.

“Tom is not only one of my closest friends in the legislature, he’s one of my closest friends – period,” Berger said. “Tom was a steadying influence when we made big decisions, and someone the caucus could always count on to solve big problems.”

Apodaca’s announcement comes after state Sen. Bob Rucho, another prominent Republican in a leadership position, announced in early November he was stepping away from the legislature.

With Apodaca’s announcement today, a total of 13 lawmakers have said they won’t seek re-election in 2016 though many will stay on for the 2016 short session which begins in the spring.

Meanwhile, in Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration, there have been several end-of-year departures announcements as well.

Chief Information Officer Chris Estes announced last week he was leaving his state government post overseeing the state’s technology systems to return to the private sector. Dale Folwell, a former lawmaker, is stepping down from leading the state’s unemployment insurance system and is considering a run for the state treasurer office.

Lake Lure charter school suspends school clubs following uproar over LGBT group

A Lake Lure charter school suspended all of its extra-curricular clubs last week after controversy erupted over a new club that supports lesbian, gay and transgender students.

The board of directors for Lake Lure Classical Academy, which serves students from kindergarten through high school in Rutherford County community, voted for the temporary suspension of extra-curricular activities Thursday.

Community members and parents spoke out at a school board meeting in support and against the newly-formed Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Club, according to the Daily Courier, a newspaper based in nearby Forest City.

From the Daily Courier’s article:

“I support the students who created the LGBT Club. I couldn’t be prouder to be a Raptor now,” parent Frances Brown said to the board. “My brother was bullied all through high school and I’m so grateful a club like this exits. This is about students feeling less alone and safe to be who they are. Thank you for embracing the difference in students.”

However, other parents expressed their concerns on the nature of the club since LLCA is a K-12 school. One grandmother said she had to explain the meaning of “gay” and “lesbian” to her elementary school student because the club put up a poster.

Another citizen told the board since it is a public school it has the ability to do away with the club. He said he did not have a child at Lake Lure, but if he did he would take them out immediately. He said the only diversity the school needs is the Bible.

Layne Long, a teacher who sponsored the club, said a student approached her about forming the club and was more than happy to have her classroom serve as a meeting place, according to the Daily Courier.

“This is not a religious club, this is a human rights club,” Long said.

Read more