Racist jury strikes go on trial at the NC Supreme Court

The North Carolina Supreme Court building in Raleigh

Russell Tucker was a Black man facing the death penalty in the South in the “tough-on-crime” 1990s. He deserved the chance to be tried by a jury of his peers — people who might have had similar life experiences and been able to see him as something other than a one-dimensional “monster.” However, a Forsyth County prosecutor stole that chance at justice, which is supposed to be guaranteed by law.

The prosecutor came up with reason after reason why Black people could not remain on the jury. They were “monosyllabic.” They “didn’t make eye contact.” They “lacked a stake in the community.” One by one, the court allowed the prosecutor to send all the Black jurors home. Russell Tucker ended up with an all-white jury that did exactly as the prosecution asked: They deemed a young Black man unworthy of life.

Mr. Tucker, who has been on North Carolina’s death row since 1996, is represented by CDPL Senior Attorney Elizabeth Hambourger, along with co-counsel Tom Maher. On Feb. 8, Ms. Hambourger will argue before the North Carolina Supreme Court that racism illegally shaped Mr. Tucker’s jury. Details about how to attend or watch the arguments are here.

The issue before the court is not whether Mr. Tucker committed a terrible crime; he has admitted to killing a security guard outside a Kmart during a desperate and drug-fueled time in his life. Instead, the issue is whether our state will allow brazen racism in death penalty trials.

The racism we’re talking about doesn’t just affect people on trial for their lives, though all-white juries have been shown to convict more easily, even when defendants are innocent, and to sentence more people to death. Jury discrimination also deprives citizens of their Constitutional right to wield power in our democratic system. Read more

Why non-compete agreements are unfair to workers

Photo: John Partipilo/States Newsroom

Even some fast food workers have been forced to abide by non-compete clauses

Earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission proposed a rule prohibiting employers from requiring employees to abide by non-compete agreements as a condition of employment.

The practice of requiring employees to sign a non-compete agreement is not new, but was traditionally required of higher-paid employees to prevent them from taking clients, trade secrets and resources from one firm to another. Unfortunately, it has become more common for low-paying employers such as retail stores and restaurants to require these agreements as well. In New York, for example, some Jimmy Johns franchises had been prohibiting former employees from working for similar restaurants within a three-mile radius for two years after leaving employment.

The only reason for a business to impose non-compete agreements on lower-paid employees is to make it more difficult for them to find better work.

A report from the Economic Policy Institute cites a finding that 51.6% of North Carolina employers require at least one employee to sign a non-compete agreement and 29% require all their employees to sign one. These percentages are among the highest of the larger states and underscore the pervasiveness of this practice. Read more

Higher ed advocate: Conservative commentator’s call for radical UNC System overhaul is off-base

Some folks measure the value of higher education solely by how much its graduates make.

Most of us know there’s a lot more to it.

In a column last week, John Hood of the John Locke Foundation contends that North Carolinians don’t receive an adequate return on what he calls a “relatively large” investment in the University of North Carolina System.

In a classic example of viewing education as a private rather than public good, Hood cites a Texas-based outfit that measures return on investment only by comparing the earnings of graduates. By its measure, the University of South Dakota ranks best in the country in lifetime returns.

Go Coyotes!

He also cites a report from the James G. Martin Center that recommends phasing out programs in law, pharmacy, dentistry and social work at UNC-Chapel Hill and law at NC Central University, as well as fine-arts degrees and language, psychology and liberal-arts degrees at other campuses.

Regarding such programs, even Hood acknowledges “most of the students who enter them know very well their chosen careers are unlikely to be lucrative. They have chosen those careers because they value other forms of compensation more — personal fulfillment, a calling to help others, or a desire to live and work in a particular kind of community.”

He goes on to suggest they can be reduced to two- or three-year degrees, without explaining how.

Hood conveniently omits the state constitution’s mandate to provide North Carolinians with a college education for “as far as practicable … free of expense.”

And to contend that the state doesn’t see substantial return on investment from its investment in the UNC System is simply absurd.

As UNC-Chapel Hill Provost Chris Clemens – an acknowledged conservative himself – laid out in a November column, the state gets more than its money’s worth for the $540 million a year it invests in UNC-Chapel Hill.

“The first thing our faculty and staff do is multiply the money by raising $1.16 billion more dollars in externally-funded research, an amount that places UNC in the top 10 federally-funded research universities in the US, higher than Harvard, MIT, or UCLA. Research at UNC develops new cancer therapies, supports highway safety, helps understand the effect of storm surges on the nation’s coastlines, and even discovers new exoplanets. Research money employs about 9,500 people in 90 counties of North Carolina, and generates $90 million in purchases from 6,500 businesses in 95 of our counties,” Clemens wrote.

Not to mention that UNC grad Kizzmekia Corbett helped develop the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19.

That’s not a bad return on investment – or service to mankind.

The university collects over $400 million in tuition from 30,000 students – some portion comes from outside the state, while the rest keeps North Carolina students at home “while providing the #1 best bargain in higher education for the student from North Carolina,” Clemens wrote.

Those students come from 98 North Carolina counties, 40% of them from rural areas.

“Eighteen percent of these students will be the first in their families to graduate from college. They will become the physicians, lawyers, artists, historians, business executives, government leaders, engineers, and teachers of tomorrow. They will emerge with a great education, a diploma from one of the top five ranked public universities, and well-prepared to be the workforce of the future that will attract new industries to North Carolina,” Clemens wrote.

As Winston-Salem businessman Don Flow puts it, “The UNC System is the most important institution for creating economic wealth in North Carolina.” The UNC System granted more than 62,000 degrees last year to graduates who will help fuel North Carolina’s booming economy.

Inventions from UNC-Chapel Hill have led to formation of at least 274 NC companies, Clemens wrote.

“These companies employ over 9,000 North Carolina citizens and generate $14 billion in annual revenue in our state. Together with UNC’s affiliated enterprise, UNC Health, itself a $4B enterprise, these companies and our campus research operations represent 2.9% of the state’s gross domestic product. The estimated tax revenue from this slice of our economy is more than the $540 million in appropriations allocated to us…

“Even though it sounds like a deal that is too good to be true, the public employees of the first and most public university in the US deliver on this promise year after year. It’s an investment the people of North Carolina can make with confidence,” Clemens concluded.11

The UNC System can always improve, of course. But please, don’t try to say there’s not enough ROI on the state’s investment.

David Rice is the executive director of the group Higher Ed Works, which first published this commentary.

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: What’s your diet lifestyle choice? Kidding, I don’t really care

I’ve been thinking a lot about ’23 and me. Not the DNA kit that reveals you once dated your half-brother “on accident.” The year 2023. Will this be the year I figure out the perfect diet, for instance?

I’m not talking about weight loss diets like when your grandma lived off Tab and Figurines. I’m talking about diet lifestyle choices. Maybe this is the year you become a “sustainatarian,” which sounds like where they used to put people with TB in olden days.

If I become a sustainatarian, which is, too, a real thing, I will be the darling of the dinner party! (“You see, it’s time we lowered our environmental impact via a diet of wholegrains, nuts and legumes…Wait! Where are you going? I wasn’t finished!”)

And while we’re on the subject, what are legumes? No one really knows but I’m pretty sure they’re those tiny fruit soda bottles made of wax that you can eat. You’re welcome.

Sustainatarians are the most noble of the very specific lifestyle diets from which to choose in 2023. If that mantle seems too heavy, perhaps you’re more of a “social omnivore,” a term I just learned about in the current issue of “Bon Appetit”, which I believe is French for “I’d Rather Be Smoking.”

Social omnivores don’t buy or eat meat at home, but they will eat it at a restaurant if invited to dinner or at a dinner party in someone else’s home. I believe the more familiar term for this diet lifestyle choice is “cheap butt.”

Seriously, social omnivores are trying not to be so rigid as to hurt feelings or cause dinner party hosts to cobble together a separate meal like they’re a picky toddler.

Perhaps you’re more of a “flexitarian” described as someone who is mostly a vegetarian but occasionally eats meat and fish. Unlike social omnivores, flexitarians occasionally pay for the meat and fish and consume it at home. They might even invite a few “meatatarians” over to demonstrate their open-mindedness. Meatatarians are folks who consume meat every day. Like me.

You could leave that meat mentality behind in ’23 in favor of becoming a “reduceatarian” which is someone who mindfully reduces the amount of meat and dairy consumed in a day. If you still don’t understand what that means, let me use it in a sentence: A social omnivore and a reduceatarian go to a bar. How long does it take before the reduceatarian realizes he has bought every round?

“Climatarians” consume no beef or lamb because of the environmental impact of corporate farms; “pescatarians” eat fish but not meat; and “vegans” don’t eat meat, fish, seafood, dairy or eggs but subsist entirely on a healthy and noble plant-based diet supplemented occasionally by thinly veiled disdain for everybody else. The “carnetarian” eats meat but not fish so I’m guessing the average age is 24 months. It will take a little longer before the “fish” is formed into the shape of a batter-breaded finger and soaked with ketchup in a school cafeteria.

I was having trouble finding the right lane—can’t be a meatatarian forever– until I learned about the “veggie-vore”—someone who isn’t a vegetarian and who does eat meat but tries to inflict as little suffering to animals and commit as little environmental harm as possible. Perfect!

I already buy grass-fed beef because I prefer to think my steak came from a cow that lived a lovely life roaming bucolic pastures in only the blue part of Texas, so, OK, the streets of Austin.  And I have bought cage-free and free-range eggs for years because I prefer eggs laid by a chatty bunch of hens who wear “Rose’ All Day” t-shirts and make fun of all the big rooster energy in the barnyard.

It’s possible I’ve overthought all this. So like a veggie-vore, am I right?

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write to her at [email protected].


A huge win for working parents: Passage of the PWFA and PUMP Act

Image: AdobeStock

In a huge win for working parents, the 117th Congress passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) and the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) for Nursing Mothers Act on December 29th, 2022. The PWFA will go into effect on June 27th, 2023, while all but one provision of the PUMP Act went into effect with the stroke of President Biden’s pen.  These bills represent more than a decade of persistence by state and national organizations to protect working parents on the job. 

The Pregnant Worker Fairness Act and the PUMP Act provide new rights to workplace accommodations under federal law that will support pregnant and breastfeeding workers across the country to safeguard their own health and that of their pregnancies and infants. These laws prohibit employers from discriminating against working parents when they need accommodations related to breastfeeding, pregnancy, and childbirth recovery.  

Click here to learn more about these new federal laws.

We and many state coalition partners labored alongside national groups to win extended protections for pregnant and breastfeeding parents working to support their families. We are now excitedly making plans for how we will support the rollout of both bills by spreading the word and educating working North Carolinians about their new rights. We are thankful for our coalition partners’ tenacity and advocacy in the decade-long effort to pass these monumental policies to protect working parents. Nobody should have to choose between their health or their job. 

Ana Pardo is the co-director of the North Carolina Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights Project. Ivy Nicole-Jonét is the project’s Digital Communications Coordinator.