N.C. Senate Democrats, civil right advocates worry bills claiming to expand voting rights do the exact opposite

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North Carolina senators on the Redistricting and Elections Committee disagreed on steps to protect the rights of voters in a heated committee hearing on Wednesday. The disagreement revolved around the discussion of three bills — all of which essentially echo an earlier version of the “Election Integrity Act” (Senate Bill 326) a Republican proposal that the progressive  Brennan Center for Justice classified as one “restricting voting access.” The three bills (a revised version of SB 326, along with Senate Bills 724 and 725) were sponsored by the three co-chairs of the committee, Sens. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, Ralph Hise, R-Madison and Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus. All three won approval and were referred to the Senate Rules Committee.

SB 326: Eliminating the grace period for absentee ballot receipts after Election Day

SB 326 was simplified to focus on moving up deadlines for absentee ballots. It would make 5:00 pm on the day of the election the final deadline for the receipt of mailed ballots during any statewide primary, general election and county bond elections. Lawmakers extended the deadline last year by three days for ballots postmarked by Election Day — a number that was later extended to nine in response to a lawsuit brought by civil rights groups.

”We don’t need to rehash again in this committee the collusive settlement entered by Attorney General Stein and director Brinson Bell that subverted state law to extend the absentee ballot deadline from three days after Election Day to nine days after Election Day,“ Daniel said the settlement undermined the confidence in the election system.

Heather Murphy, an Air Force veteran spoke against the bill, saying the bill poses a threat to legally cast ballots that arrive late because of delays. “That’s a big problem for veterans like me as one in five military voters in North Carolina cast a ballot by mail in the 2020 general election,” Murphy said.

Bob Philips, the executive director of Common Cause NC, a grassroots organization said in a press release: “There is absolutely no evidence that this change is needed. It would simply hurt North Carolina voters, especially those in rural communities, who follow the rules but could have their ballot unfairly invalidated because of a delay in mail delivery. We call on legislators to reject Senate Bill 326.”

While mailed ballots would need to be received by 5:00 pm on Election Day, the new version would do away with the requirement that  absentee ballot requests be submitted seven days before the election. Daniel said the bill now would give voters 53 days to request an absentee ballot and 17 to vote early in person.

Modifications to the bill adopted in the committee would also require county boards of elections to report more data to the State Board of Elections. That includes the number of total absentee ballots, as well outstanding and spoiled ones. The State Board of Elections would in turn be required to release such reports.

Sen. Paul Newton presents voting-related bills at the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee on June 9, 2021

SB 725: Prohibiting outside grants for boards of elections

Entitled “Prohibit Private Money in Elections Admin.”, SB 725 would ban the state and county boards of elections and the county boards of commissioners from accepting private donations for election administration.

“Let’s nip this idea that private organizations can selectively fund within counties what they care about, what aligns with maybe their ideology,” Newton said.

Andy Jackson, a representative of the conservative John Locke Foundation spoke in support of the bill. He said the main outside funding comes from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a group founded by members of voter outreach group Organizing Institute, which mainly received money from Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Pricilla Chan.

“Thirty-three counties that the organization gave funds backed Democrat Cal Cunningham, 52.7% to 47.3% while the other 67 counties that did not receive that funding, supporting Republican Tom Tillis 53.6% to 46.4%,” Jackson said.

Similar bills have been passed in other states such as Georgia and Arizona, according to a report by The Hill, which also stated that a total of $350 million to the Center for Tech and Civic Life funded 2,500 county and city election officials.

Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg, said the state legislature has failed to support elections adequately in the 2020 response during the pandemic, harming voters’ access to the ballot.

“I don’t understand why we just said, well, we’ll leave it up to counties to figure it out and luckily these groups stepped in,” Marcus said.

SB 724: “Expand Access to Voter ID & Voting”

Newton described SB 724 as “all about expanding voter access in North Carolina.” The bill proposes three key measures. First, it would improve accessibility for visually-impaired votes when using the online portal to vote. Second, it would create a program that would provide photo IDs for the purpose of voting for lack of an alternative existing ID. Third, it would mandate the State Board of Elections to overhaul their website to allow voter registration online. Currently, the service is offered by the DMV.

Marcus raised doubts about whether the process will be duplicative and whether the SBOE has the technology to deliver what the bill calls for.

Newton did not directly address her concern. Instead, he said, “We’ve been working with the Board of Elections; We’ve taken every change they’ve asked to make on this provision, or any other provision.”

Kelly Tornow, a state board of elections legislative liaison said during public comment at the hearing that she is unclear about the implementation of the bill.

Failure to transfer the DMV data to the SBOE website could result in verification errors and disenfranchisement, a statement from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice said. The voting rights advocacy group noted that only current and valid licenses could be used for the proposed online voter registration system under the bill’s proposal, while the current DMV site still accepts inactive licenses.

The group North Carolina Asian Americans Together issued a highly critical statement in which it called SB 724 “a litigation strategy cloaked in a bill without actually responding to voter access needs.” It noted that the bill would likely cause errors and confusion, as the Voter ID law passed in 2018 is still been litigated in state and federal court, facing Constitutional challenges that it discriminates against communities of color.

“Voter ID may also discourage Asian Americans from voting when forced to show identification because they look “too foreign” or because their English is limited,” the statement noted.

The group is opposed to all three bills. “These bills that legislators claim will preserve the integrity of elections will instead disenfranchise Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities as well as Asian American voters,” the statement read.

[Note: This story was updated to include a statement on SB 724 from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.]

New report lays out vision for democracy reform in North Carolina

More than 20 experts from leading research and advocacy organizations proposed reform measures for North Carolina in a report titled “Blueprint for a Stronger Democracy” released Tuesday. The report zeroes in on policy discussions around voting, redistricting, campaign finance reforms and judicial accountability.

In addition to expertise from national organizations, such as the Brennan Center for Justice, the Voters’ Rights to Know Project and the Campaign Legal Center, the report showcases local input from groups including Common Cause NC, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Disability Rights North Carolina, Democracy North Carolina and the North Carolina Black Alliance. It’s coordinated by the Institute for Southern Studies and the North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections.

“North Carolina has a proud history of leadership in promoting measures to improve our elections and democracy,” Executive Director of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections Melissa Price Kromm said in a news release for the publication of the report. “Unfortunately, our state has lost ground in recent years. Today, North Carolina has an opportunity to once again be a leader in strengthening democracy.”

Here are some of the main policy proposals:

Voting

  • Improving voter registration with same-day registration and automatic voter registration. The report said that automatic voter registration saves money and helps keep voter rolls up to date. In addition, the state should implement the system in such a way that protects the privacy of domestic violence survivors’ addresses, Currently, the report suggests, North Carolina has more personally identifiable information in voter registration records than any other state.
  • Stopping voter purges based on inactivity or undeliverable mail. “The risk of erroneous purges outweighs any benefit to the integrity of elections,” the report cautioned, citing more than 5,000 provisional ballots cast in November of 2020.
  • Joining the national Electronic Registration Information Center database, which the report claims to be better equipped to track and contact voters who moved across states.
  • Ensuring displaced people’s equal opportunity to vote.
  • Expanding student access to voting by providing on-campus polling places at public colleges and universities and working with private institutions to implement similar measures.
  • Making Election Day a public holiday.
  • Securing funding and improve staffing for local elections.

Redistricting

  • Urging the state to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, in which states agree to award their electoral college votes to the winner of the general election nationwide. At present, 15 states and the District of Columbia with 196 electoral votes have signed on to the compact. It would go into effect once that number reaches 270.
  • Avoiding partisan gerrymandering by reforming the redistricting process. Though declared unconstitutional by the state court after the Supreme Court refused to weigh in, partisan gerrymandering will remain a part of the landscape unless and until permanent reform like the “Fair Maps Act” (which proposed a commission composed of members of the public to independently draw maps) is enacted, the report says.

Campaign finance reform

  • Joining other states to petition for the overturn of Citizens United v. FEC, which eliminated the cap on the amount independent committees can spend on “electioneering” (i.e. media ad buys) as long as there’s no coordination with candidates’ committees.
  • Strengthening coordination laws. The report notes that sometimes candidate and independent expenditure committees circumvent federal restrictions on coordination and contribution limits by hiring the same firm for campaign services and sharing campaign materials.
  • Increasing public financing for political races. The report highlights the past success of the state’s now-repealed “voter-owned election” programs for judicial elections and certain council of state races.

Judicial independence and accountability

  • Reverting judicial races to non-partisan. Citing the United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch’s remark at his confirmation hearing that “There’s no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic judge,” the report recommends depoliticizing judicial races to conform with the predominant method used for judicial elections in other states. North Carolina is one of just seven states with partisan elections for the appellate division of the state court.
  • Regulating judges’ recusal by banning judicial candidates from asking potential donors for contribution and enhancing conflict of interest rules. Judicial ethics rules in North Carolina have not been updated to keep pace with the heightened political tension and the growing role of money in these races, the report says.
  • Creating a gubernatorial judicial nominating system for vacancies. The report referenced a 2016 report by the Brennan Center underscoring the lack of representation and diversity of judicial actors in the communities they serve in North Carolina.

Read the report in full here.

In defeat for Berger and Moore, federal lawsuit on N.C. voter ID law will proceed without their intervention

(Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

In a defeat for North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday against the lawmakers’ effort to intervene in a lawsuit testing North Carolina’s 2018 Voter ID law. Most Court of Appeals cases are handled by three-judge panels, but in this case, the court acted en banc with all 15 judges participating after a rehearing. The vote was 9-6.

The suit, filed by NC NAACP, challenged the constitutionality of the Republican-backed voter ID law (SB 824) enacted by legislators in the last month of lame duck period of the Republican supermajority in December 2018, following an override of Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto.

The law requires most voters to produce an unexpired photo ID when casting their ballot or cast a provisional ballot instead.

The plaintiffs argued that the law would have a disparate impact on communities of color, and would amount to “effective denial of the franchise and dilution of minority voting strength”– a violation of the Voting Rights Act. In response, Moore and Berger asked the court for permission to litigate on the state’s behalf, noting Attorney General Josh Stein’s opposition to the law.

In 2019, U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Biggs denied two consecutive requests by state House and Senate leaders to directly intervene in the case. She concluded that Moore and Berger failed to show that the Attorney General’s office has demonstrated a “strong showing of inadequacy.” In the ruling, Biggs cited unnecessary delays that could be caused by the intervention. She did allow Moore and Berger to file amicus briefs expressing their views on the law. Biggs also granted the plaintiff’s motion to enjoin the law from being enacted.

In August 2020, however, a three-judge Fourth Circuit panel found that Biggs erred in denying the legislative leaders’ petition to intervene and in December, another three-judge panel also vacated her ruling that blocked the enforcement of the voter ID law, saying that voting rights groups are not likely going to succeed in showing the law’s discriminatory intent in the claim regarding the merits of the law. The judges also highlighted the bipartisanship and voter support of the bill.

The Monday decision only affects the intervention claim and reaffirmed Biggs’ ruling. Writing for the majority, Judge Pamela Harris stated that Berger and Moore “have a right to intervene under Rule 24(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure only if a federal court first finds that the Attorney General is inadequately representing that same interest, in dereliction of his statutory duties – a finding that would be ‘extraordinary.’ After reviewing the district court’s careful evaluation of the Attorney General’s litigation conduct, we are convinced that the court did not abuse its discretion in declining to make that extraordinary finding here.”

In a dissenting opinion joined by four other judges, Judge Marvin Quattlebaum wrote: “With no intent to disparage the Attorney General, I see no reason he is either the “most natural” agent to defend S.B. 824 — a law that he has publicly opposed— or is more familiar with the matters of public concern that led to its passage in the first place as opposed to the Leaders.”

The trial on the merits was delayed pending on the procedural decision on intervention. A separate lawsuit challenging the law was heard by a three-judge panel in state court in April. A judgment has not been issued.

Reform at last? $75 million verdict should send message to prosecutors, lawmakers

Henry McCollum (left) and Leon Brown

I first met Henry McCollum nearly three decades ago. I was a social worker and he was on death row. Henry was shy and halting and seemed much younger than his years. He and his brother, Leon Brown, were intellectually disabled teenagers when they were sentenced to death in 1984. In horror, Henry had watched his friends marched, one after the other, to the execution chamber. He had attempted suicide. We wrote and visited frequently over the years, and he always insisted he was innocent and that God would free him one day. I believed him, but I had no idea how anyone could prove it.

In 2014, the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission produced the DNA evidence that would finally exonerate Henry and Leon of the rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie. By the time Henry was released, he’d spent more than 30 torturous years imagining his own execution. Forty-two of his friends had been put to death by the state of North Carolina. He still gets overwhelmed when he talks about those years. He still misses his family who live on death row.

I was euphoric two weeks ago when a civil jury returned a verdict ordering the State Bureau of Investigation to pay Henry and Leon $75 million for the wrongful conviction that stole much of their lives. That was in addition to a $9 million settlement that morning with the Robeson County Sheriff’s Department, and $1 million from the town of Red Springs.

I don’t believe this money – or any amount of money – will compensate them for what they lost. But I’m overjoyed that the judgment was so large that it should force law enforcement and prosecutors to take notice.

This may be the largest police misconduct verdict in U.S. history. By comparison, a jury awarded the young men known as the Central Park Five just over $40 million.

Maybe police will think about Henry and Leon the next time they have a vulnerable suspect – a teenager, a person with intellectual disabilities or mental illness, a person of color with no economic power – in an interrogation room. Maybe they won’t call them the n-word, or threaten them with death by lethal gas, or tell them that, if they just go ahead and confess to murder, they’ll be allowed to go home. That was the final lie that persuaded Henry to falsely confess.

Maybe prosecutors will think about Henry and Leon the next time they are handed a capital case with no physical evidence, unreliable witnesses, and an incomplete investigation. Maybe they’ll insist that investigators follow up on other suspects – like the guy who lives next door to the crime scene and committed an eerily similar murder around the same time. Just such a suspect was ignored in Henry’s case until 2014, when the Innocence Commission found his DNA on a cigarette left at the crime scene.

Henry and Leon’s exoneration and pardon of innocence made international headlines in 2014. Yet, unbelievably, their exoneration did not prompt state or national leaders to enact a single reform. North Carolina had spent 30 years trying to execute an innocent man; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had even called out Henry as an example of the type of remorseless killer who justified the existence of the death penalty. Still, no one did anything to ensure that such a mistake could not happen again.

Then, when Henry and Leon brought a civil suit against the officers who coerced their confessions, lawyers for the State Bureau of Investigation had the nerve to stand up in court and – despite the overwhelming evidence of innocence – argue that Henry and Leon were guilty.

It took a jury of ordinary citizens to stand up and say: “Enough.” With their extraordinary verdict, they said that what happened to Henry and Leon was unacceptable and must never happen again. They said if police and prosecutors lie and disregard people’s lives, they will pay for it. They said to Henry and Leon: We believe you.

The night of the verdict Henry told me that, while he was thankful, he was still upset that no one had apologized to him and Leon. I told him I thought the jury was trying to do just that.

Henry and Leon are not alone. 185 innocent people who were sentenced to death in the U.S. were later exonerated. Clearly, we cannot be sure all of those wrongfully convicted were cleared before execution. Recently, evidence emerged that Arkansas almost certainly executed an innocent man in 2017.

That’s why we must go further than paying damages to the exonerated. We need our leaders to act. Police and prosecutors must commit to meaningful reform. And we must end the death penalty, which is the only appropriate response after the realization that a state spent 30 years trying to execute an innocent man.

Gerda Stein is the Director of Public Information and former mitigation specialist at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham, North Carolina. She worked on Henry McCollum’s case for more than 20 years.

PW exclusive: Deadline set for lawsuit in Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure controversy

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has until Friday to offer tenure to acclaimed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones or face a federal lawsuit, according to documents obtained by Policy Watch.

On Thursday, attorneys with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the law firms Levy Ratner and Ferguson Chambers & Sumter sent a letter to Charles Marshall, the school’s vice chancellor and general counsel. The letter laid out Hannah-Jones’ case and demanded UNC-Chapel Hill make good on what they said was its initial offer of a tenured position for Hannah-Jones as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

“We intend to bring litigation to vindicate Ms. Hannah-Jones’ rights under federal and state law,” the attorneys wrote. “This letter is to demand that UNC take immediate action to remedy its conduct to avoid suit by making an unconditional offer to Ms. Hannah-Jones of a tenured appointment as full professor no later than June 4, 2021.”

The four page letter, published below, said “UNC’s actions to effectively deny tenure to Ms. Hannah-ones, in contravention of multiple written and verbal representations to her, constitute viewpoint discrimination and race-based employment discrimination and retaliation.”

As Policy Watch first reported last week, the board failed to approve tenure for Hannah-Jones, a winner of the prestigious George Polk and  George Foster Peabody awards and Pulitzer Prize for her journalism. She was instead hired on a five year fixed-term contract — a striking departure from precedent. Previous Knight Chairs at UNC have been hired with tenure.

Sources on the board told Policy Watch that trustees had political objections to Hannah-Jones’s work and faced pressure from conservatives to prevent approval of her tenure. Board members described the five-year contract as a “work-around” negotiated to prevent the tenure vote from coming to the board, where debate would quickly have become political.

Board chairman Richard Stevens said last week the matter never came to a full vote of the board because University Affairs Committee Chairman Chuck Duckett asked that it be put on hold. Board members had concerns about Hannah-Jones coming from a non-academic background, Stevens said. All previous Knight Chair professors have been media professionals, not academics. The positions are designed to bring those professionals and their industry knowledge into classrooms at universities across the country.

Stevens also said neither UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz nor Provost Bob Blouin recommended Hannah-Jones for tenure. UNC Chapel Hill Faculty Chair Mimi Chapman called that “de facto false,” as Hannah-Jones’s tenure application could not have gone from faculty level to the trustee committee level without their recommendation.

This week, in the of wake national headlines and letters of protest from faculty, students, alumni and academics from across the country, the school’s provost re-submitted Hannah-Jones to the board for tenure consideration. That move came after a public demand from Lamar Richards, UNC-Chapel Hill student body president and member of the board of trustees, that the board hold a vote on tenure for Hannah-Jones.

As Policy Watch reported this week, Hannah-Jones hired legal counsel and announced she was considering a federal action for discrimination.

The letter provides a timeline of events that occurred from Hannah-Jones’ recruitment to the board’s decision not to hold a vote on her tenure application.

From the letter:

“As a UNC alumna, Ms. Hannah-Jones was receptive when approached by Dean Susan King about the prospect of joining the faculty of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media as a Knight Chair. Ms. Hannah-ones was told more than once, in writing, that she would be hired by UNC as a full professor with tenure in her position as Knight Chair. Indeed, every Knight Chair at UNC since 1980 has been granted tenure upon appointment, many of whom, like Ms. Hannah-Ones, were practicing journalists at the time of their appointments. In reliance upon the terms offer to her, Ms. Hannah-Jones accepted employment as Knight Chair for Race and Investigative Journalism and took concrete steps to set up a residence in North Carolina.

Upon review of Ms. Hannah-Jones’s completed tenure application, the School of Journalism’s review committee unanimously recommended tenure for Ms. Hannah-Jones, which was approved by unanimous vote of the School of Journalism’s faculty, and also approved by the University’s review committee. Ms. Hannah-Jones was recommended for tenure not only by Dean King, but also by Provost Robert A. Blouin and Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. A vote of the Board of Trustees concerning tenure for Ms. Hannah-Jones was scheduled for November 12, 2020 and Ms. Hannah-Jones secured and furnished a residence in Chapel Hill in preparation for her employment at UNC, to begin January 2021. The Board of Trustees, however, chose not to take action on Ms. Hannah-Jones’ tenure application at its November 2020 meeting. On information and belief, the Board of Trustees’ refusal to act on a tenure application, which had been overwhelmingly approved at every level of review, including approval by the UNC Chancellor, is unusual if not unprecedented.

Following that meeting, Ms. Hannah-Jones did not receive any explanation fo the Board of Trustees’ failure to act on her tenure application. When the Trustees met again in January 2021, the Board again declined to act on her tenure application without explanation. In late February 2021, Ms. Hannah-Jones was told that she would be offered a five-year contract instead of being granted tenure. Having already made significant personal and professional arrangements to join the UNC faculty in reliance upon the promise of tenure, and without a full understanding of the reasons for this major reversal, Ms. Hannah-Jones reluctantly accepted the fixed-term contract.

It has now become apparent that the Trustees’ denial of tenure to Ms. Hannah-Jones, which breaks from UNC’s longstanding, established practice to grant tenure to Knight Chairs upon hire, was motivated by a desire to suppress her research, writing and speech related to the history and legacy of American slavery and its continuing ramifications in entrenched racial inequalities and racial injustices in America, as exemplified by the 1619 Project. UNC Officials, including individuals on the Board of Trustees, may choose to personally agree with the conservative pundits and elected officials who have been vocally hostile and antagonistic to Ms. Hannah-Jones’ professional work and achievements, but they are prohibited from furthering, promoting, or imposing their political opinion and viewpoints through officials acts on behalf of UNC. In taking an adverse employment action to chill Ms. Hannah-Jones’ expression of First Amendment protected speech, UNC has engaged in unlawful viewpoint discrimination, in violation of 42 U.S. Code § 1983, as well as federal and state law and policy. In fact, it has long been the law in North Carolina that personnel decisions must be free of political influence. See G.S.§  126-14.2. Nowhere is this more important than in the university setting, where principles of academic freedom are foundational. Here, Ms. Hannah-Jones’ work is not only protected by the principles of academic freedom but also by the principles of journalistic integrity and freedom of the press.”

The tenure controversy has already generated national headlines and intensely negative publicity for the university, with condemnations from prominent academics, artists and athletes across the country. Celebrated musicians, filmmakers, actors and literary luminaries have suggested they may decline invitations from the school and urge philanthropic foundations to reconsider supporting it as a result of what they call an attempt to “suppress free thought about racism and its historical roots.” Last week, Raleigh’s News & Observer published a two page ad bought by 1,619 UNC-Chapel Hill alumni in support of Hannah-Jones’s tenure.

“We are 1,619 University of North Carolina alumni outraged by the Board of Trustees’ failure to approve a tenured professorship for UNC aluma and founder of The 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones,” the alumni wrote in the ad. “Dismissing a list of merits that includes winning the Pulitzer Prize, Peabody Award and MacArthur “Genius” Grant is an attempt to penalize Nikole Hannah-Jones for her groundbreaking and unvarnished reporting of American history. We demand that the Board of Trustees immediately revisit this matter, grant tenure as recommended by the appropriate faculty, Dean and Provost, and restore the integrity of our university.”

If Hannah-Jones moves forward with a federal lawsuit, it could be the latest in a series of embarrassing and costly court battles for the university over its handling of political and racial issues.

In February, the UNC Board of Governors settled a lawsuit brought by DTH Media Corp., the parent company of student newspaper The Daily Tar Heel.

The paper sued the system and the UNC Board of Governors over a negotiated settlement with the NC Sons of Confederate Veterans in which the system transferred possession of the ‘Silent Sam’ Confederate statue and more than $2.5 million to the group. The lawsuit argued that the board crafted the deal in secret and presented it to the public without holding any public meetings or discussions.

That deal provided the Sons of Confederate Veterans with the money to buy the rights to the statue from the United Daughters of the Confederacy; that agreement was later invalidated by an Orange County Superior Court judge, but not before the group spent a portion of the settlement money. Questions have also been raised as to whether the UDC had the right to sell the statue.

The deal was scrapped due to opposition mounted by UNC-Chapel Hill students and alumni, who argued successfully in court against the legal team mounted by UNC-Chapel Hill and the UNC System.

As part of the settlement, documents were released that revealed high-level UNC-Chapel Hill administrators were part of negotiating the deal with the NC Sons of Confederate Veterans, despite public assurances to the contrary by the school’s chancellor. Those revelations led a faculty group at the school to call for Guskiewicz’s resignation.

Media and law experts have also pointed to another past lawsuit against the university system involving faculty tenure as a potential precedent in the Hannah-Jones matter.

Tori Ekstrand, a media law professor in the UNC Hussman school, has suggested the political opposition to Hannah-Jones’s tenure seems remarkably similar to the case of conservative UNC-Wilmington professor Mike Adams in the years-long legal fight over speech-based discrimination in which he ultimately prevailed against the university system.

“A reminder to the BOT and the UNC system that the 4th Circuit stands firmly behind academic freedom,” Ekstrand wrote, providing a link to a summary of Adams’ legal case.

“Does the UNC system remember this case?” Ekstrand wrote.

Read the entire letter from Hannah-Jones’s attorneys below. Read more