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.

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Environment, Legislature, News, Special Session, Voting

The week’s Top Stories on NC Policy Watch

1. The next big battle in North Carolina politics is just days away

The 2018 election may finally be in the rear view mirror, but for better or worse, the next battle over the state’s future will commence very soon – on Tuesday, November 27. That’s the day that Republican legislative leaders will convene the latest of their endless stream of “special” legislative sessions.

Unfortunately, there’s little indication that there will be anything very special about this particular convening – unless, that is, one places a high priority on voter suppression, dishonest schemes to amend the state constitution, and rump, lame duck governance in which unaccountable decision makers attempt to foist lasting change upon a mostly uninformed public.

As usual, we know very little about the specifics of the planned session at this point, but multiple news outlets have reported that it will feature the adoption of legislation to implement (i.e. flesh out the details for) some or all of three constitutional amendments approved by voters last week. That means that we could see legislation related to the amendments on voter ID, victims’ rights and hunting and fishing. The tax cap amendment requires no new legislation.[Read more…] ===
2. With the supermajority doomed, North Carolina should reconsider Medicaid expansion

Despite the manufactured panic of the migrant caravan, despite the midterm’s so-called “referendum on Trump,” despite the nation’s nonsensical gun laws, despite an election that often seemed a direct rebuke of misogynist GOP leaders and policies, the pollsters told us the 2018 election would begin and end with healthcare.

Prevailing wisdom held that, in 2010, voters were rankled by Obamacare when they tossed Democrats and other supporters of former President Obama’s signature legislation.

If past is prologue, 2018’s bad-tempered midterms would spell similar problems for Republicans, who’d, according to the polls, irritated voters by meddling with Obamacare. These days the law, warts and all, enjoys broad support in the general public, and enthusiasm for the GOP’s “repeal Obamacare or bust” campaign seemed to wane even before the late John McCain’s dramatic thumbs down.

Remarkably, a full-throated 41 percent of voters told exit pollsters last week that health care was their most important issue this year, according to NBC News, dwarfing even the economy, gun reform, and immigration. To twist Clinton strategist James Carville’s words, it’s Obamacare, stupid. [Read more…]

3. Partisan gerrymandering will be North Carolina’s next big court battle

Breaking the Republicans’ veto-proof legislative majorities was the short game for North Carolina Democrats and many voting rights activists this year. Their long game? Ending partisan gerrymandering for good in North Carolina.

Common Cause, the North Carolina Democratic Party and a group of individual voters filed a lawsuit earlier this week in Wake County Superior Court challenging the redrawn 2017 maps used in the election last week. They are using the state constitution’s Equal Protection and Free Election clauses as well as the free speech and association guarantees to make their case.

“There is nothing ‘equal’ about the ‘terms’ on which North Carolinians vote for candidates for the General Assembly,” the 69-page lawsuit states. “North Carolina’s Constitution also commands that ‘all elections shall be free’ – a provision that has no counterpart in the federal constitution. Elections to the North Carolina General Assembly are not ‘free’ when the outcomes are predetermined by partisan actors sitting behind a computer.” [Read more…]

***Bonus read: Trump nominee Farr could be confirmed to Eastern District judgeship by end of year

4. Republican legislators pledge to probe Cooper Atlantic Coast Pipeline deal

The Joint Subcommittee on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline voted Wednesday to launch an investigation into Gov. Roy Cooper’s office, albeit one without an investigator — and without any notion of how much the inquiry would cost.

The investigation, spearheaded by Republican Sens. Harry Brown and Paul Newton and Rep. Dean Arp, will look into whether Gov. Roy Cooper’s $57.8 million Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Duke Energy and Dominion Energy was a “pay to play” deal to construct a segment of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in North Carolina.

The lawmakers have implied that, in exchange for ponying up the money — which Cooper would control via an escrow account — the utilities would receive key water quality permits from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). [Read more...]

5. High-powered trial lawyers joust as latest hog trial commences

Robert Thackston, who is tall, bald, with a trunk as straight as a redwood’s, removed his midnight-blue suit jacket to reveal a white twill shirt so crisp it threatened to shatter.

On the seventh floor, in Room No. 2 of the federal courthouse in Raleigh, the Texas lawyer sat at the head of a scurry of attorneys hired by Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer. He rocked in his chair and flipped through his thicket of notes, as if perusing a wine list. He raised his eyes and gazed at the grid of lights in the ceiling. He seemed to be rehearsing.
Robert Thackston

Behind him, in the gallery, fellow Texas attorney Michael Kaeske, graying but boyish, smiled and shook hands with each of the plaintiffs. The eight Black neighbors of a 6,000-head industrialized hog farm near Rose Hill in Sampson County had entrusted him with their story. It seemed to weigh on him. Flanked by lawyers from the Salisbury firm Wallace and Graham, which hired him as the lead attorney, he approached his desk and turned around to face the packed courtroom. He touched three fingers to the side of his neck, as if measuring his pulse.

The fourth hog nuisance case against Smithfield Foods began in US District Court on Wednesday. Yet even before the trial, its methods and strategies contrasted with the previous three. The farm in question, Sholar, is owned and operated by Smithfield Foods. Although in all of the cases the defendant is Smithfield, the company has often used its growers — family farmers contractually bound to corporate whims — as a public relations tool to elicit sympathy. This time, there is no family farmer. There is just Smithfield. [Read more…]

6. Folwell, State Health Plan swim against rising tide with denial of insurance coverage to transgender individuals

North Carolina is not the only state whose transgender state employees and dependents are without insurance coverage under their state’s health plan.

But the state’s blanket exclusion of treatments for gender dysphoria—from counseling and hormone treatment to gender confirmation surgery—puts it firmly in the minority.

Only 12 states in the U.S. currently have explicit exclusions of transgender and transition-related health care in their state employee health benefits. Seventeen states and Washington D.C explicitly provide for this type of care as part of their employee health benefits. Twenty-one states don’t specifically cover the treatment but do not have a blanket exclusion, making it easier for patients to appeal for some treatments and for the coverage to expand to include them.

“Generally speaking, it’s a positive trend,” said Logan Casey with the Movement Advancement Project, a Colorado-based group that tracks state stances on LGBTQ rights issues. [Read more…]

7. Weekly Editorial Cartoon: