Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Wake County judge: Voter ID challenge can move forward in courts

A state constitutional challenge to North Carolina’s new voter ID law can move forward, according to a Wednesday order from Wake County Superior Court Judge Vince Rozier Jr.

Six plaintiffs filed the lawsuit alleging the voter ID law discriminates against and disproportionately impacts minority voters, creates separate classes of voters, imposes a cost and property requirement for voting and impedes the ability of voters to engage in political expression and speech. Legislative defendants responded with a motion to dismiss the suit, which Rozier denied after hearing arguments earlier this month.

Chief Justice Cheri Beasley will now appoint a three-judge panel to hear the case as a whole.

“We appreciate that the court recognized that the voters who brought their case deserve to have a full hearing in front of a three-judge panel,” said Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “We look forward to representing plaintiffs as they continue to challenge this discriminatory and unconstitutional law.”

One part of a claim brought by plaintiffs was dismissed by the judge because none of the plaintiffs in the case who were under the age of sixty-five possessed an acceptable state-issued ID that was more than one year expired. Rozier wrote in the order that because the plaintiffs did not fall within the category of voters potentially affected by the claim, there was a lack of standing.

Lawmakers fast-tracked a bill this week, that was signed Thursday by Gov. Roy Cooper, that delays the implementation of the voter ID bill until the 2020 elections.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is representing plaintiffs in the voter ID litigation, along with pro-bono counsel from the New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice also represented plaintiffs who successfully challenged the state’s 2013 monster voter suppression law that was ultimately struck down by the U.S Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Read Rozier’s order below.



18 CVS 15292 VMR Order on Facial v as Applied (Text)

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Advocates: The time is now for SCOTUS to set partisan gerrymandering standard

In less than two weeks, attorneys will be back in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to argue a North Carolina partisan gerrymandering case — but this time, they hope, things will be different.

“The North Carolina case is the best test case to right the wrongs in North Carolina and frankly to set a standard throughout the country,” said Kathay Feng, national redistricting director at Common Cause. “Paired with the Maryland case, which is an example of Democratic gerrymandering, we believe that this is the moment for SCOTUS to clearly articulate a partisan gerrymandering that is unconstitutional.”

Oral arguments in sibling cases Common Cause v. Rucho and League of Women Voters v. Rucho will be heard March 26. A federal court has already found twice in the partisan gerrymandering cases that the state’s 2016 congressional redistricting plan was unconstitutional.

Feng gave an overview of the cases Wednesday in a teleconference. She said the undisputed facts of the case make it different from others heard by the high court in the past — mainly that GOP legislative leaders said on the record they drew districts to maximize partisan gain.

Daniel Tokaji, an election law and First Amendment professor from Moritz College of Law, agreed and said the strongest legal basis of the Common Cause case was the violation of First Amendment associational rights. The state Democratic Party is a party in the case.

Tokaji said there is 50 years of Supreme Court precedent protecting associational rights and that in some cases, voting is an associational right.

“It’s not only the affect on who gets elected to office that courts should consider … but also effects on the disfavored political party and its supporters outside the electoral process,” he said.

That includes difficulties fundraising, registering voters, generating support, recruiting candidates and accomplishing policy objectives. North Carolina has undisputed evidence of all of it.

Tokaji said the North Carolina best captures the type of injury inflicted by gerrymandering, a systemic injury to a group of people. It also provides the court an opportunity to set a nuanced standard — just because there is intent for partisan gerrymandering doesn’t mean a map is unconstitutional; the court can allow states to present reasons for gerrymandering, like keeping districts compact or geographical considerations.

“To me the biggest reason for being hopeful here — we don’t know for sure what the court is going to do — is that the evidence about how bad the problem has gotten and how toxic it is for our politics as a whole becomes clearer and clearer over time and this isn’t a problem that’s going to fix itself,” he said.

Love Caesar, 20, a student at North Carolina A&T University and a democracy fellow with Common Cause NC, described the effects of partisan gerrymandering on her campus and said it’s very disheartening for students.

“There’s no other college in this country divided into two congressional districts, especially right down the middle,” she said. “It’s so blatantly clear how it’s done. The United States has a history of taking the Black vote and suppressing it, so it’s clear how this gerrymandering dilutes the people’s power at A&T.”

She added that she thinks it’s important for the Supreme Court to set a precedent now because “it’s setting an example to us who are future leaders of this country … about how they want us to act in the future.”

“Will they act with integrity and strike down unconstitutional gerrymandering?” she asked. “I would really, really love to vote on a constitutional map.”

The high court will also hear a Maryland case involving Democratic partisan gerrymandering.

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy

Burr, Tillis, help Senate confirm true extremist to nation’s second highest court

Sen. Richard Burr

Sen. Thom Tillis

It’s easy to become numb to the steady parade of extreme reactionaries that the Trump administration continues to install in offices of great responsibility, but here’s one that folks ought to take notice of. Today, the United States Senate approved Trump’s nomination of Neomi Rao to serve as a member of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit — the court generally recognized as the nation’s second highest. Rao takes the slot vacated by Brett Kavanaugh when he ascended to the Supreme Court. North Carolina’s Richard Burr and Thom Tillis both voted “yes” on the nomination.

Check out what the nonpartisan court watchers at the Alliance for Justice had to say about today’s vote and Rao’s abhorrently extreme views:

“The Senate voted today to confirm Neomi Rao for Brett Kavanaugh’s old seat on the D.C. Circuit over the objections of advocates and communities representing millions of Americans, including sexual assault survivors, people of color, LGBTQ people, women, and people with disabilities. Rao has blamed sexual assault survivors for being attacked, shamed women for seeking equality in the workplace, belittled the fight for racial justice, and demeaned LGBTQ people. She has proven her willingness to put her dangerous rhetoric into policy time and time again during her tenure at OIRA, rolling back public protections for these communities, the environment, immigrants, and more. She has made clear she wants to use the courts to weaken protections for health and safety, workers, and consumers. Neomi Rao is unfit to serve for a lifetime on the federal bench, but Senate Republicans strong-armed members of their own party to confirm her anyway. With this vote, they have proven that they will go to outrageous lengths to pack our courts with more of Trump’s abhorrent judicial nominees.”

And this is from the good people at the Center for American Progress:

“President Donald Trump and the Senate majority are trying to pack the courts with yet another narrow-minded, partisan judge who will put the interests of big business and the wealthy before those of everyone else. While serving as Trump’s regulatory czar, Neomi Rao signed off again and again on regulations that give powerful corporations special breaks at the expense of people’s health and safety. She has also shown a disturbing bias against victims of sexual assault and has an unacceptable history of disparaging women’s rights.

But this is about more than just one judge; it’s about the whole conservative court-packing scheme playing out before our eyes. The Senate majority refused to confirm scores of federal judges in the last two years of the Obama administration and is now changing the rules to fill those stolen seats as fast as humanly possible. Conservatives have cut home-state senators out of the process, ignored negative ratings from the American Bar Association, and rubber-stamped judges without looking closely at their records. Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is trying to put the process on steroids by changing the rules for district court judges. Court-packing is happening right now. And if we do nothing, it’s going to have consequences for an entire generation. We need to fight for a fair-minded judiciary that works for all Americans, not just the wealthy few.”

All in all, it’s a truly sad day for the country.

Courts & the Law, Governor Roy Cooper, News

Gov. Cooper names appeals court judge, Mark Davis, to N.C. Supreme Court

Newly appointed state Supreme Court Justice Mark Davis

North Carolina will soon have a full state Supreme Court, after Gov. Roy Cooper announced his appointment Monday of state Court of Appeals Judge Mark Davis to the high court.

Davis will fill the seat once occupied by new Chief Justice Cheri Beasley. Cooper named Beasley to the chief justice role last month when the former chief justice, Mark Martin, retired at the end of February to take a job as the dean of Regent University’s law school.

Davis will take over Beasley’s former associate justice position, arriving in time to hear oral arguments when the state Supreme Court convenes in April. He also intends to run for election to a full eight-year term in 2020.

“I know Judge Davis is dedicated to his work and to serving the people of North Carolina, and I know he will continue to serve with distinction as an associate justice on the Supreme Court,” Cooper said.

This is the second time Davis, a registered Democrat, has succeeded Beasley. He was appointed to her Court of Appeals seat by former Gov. Bev Perdue in 2012, and won election to a full eight-year term in 2014. Davis was previously Perdue’s general counsel and, before that, served as a special deputy attorney general at the North Carolina Department of Justice.

Davis, who was born in Onslow County, also worked for more than a decade in the litigation section of the Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice firm, now Womble Bonds Dickinson.

Davis’ appointment shifts the balance of the Supreme Court to a 6-1 Democratic majority. Martin, the former chief justice, was a Republican, and GOP leaders had been hopeful Cooper would appoint a Republican to the high court to keep some balance. Cooper has said before that he would appoint the best person for the job.

Both Beasley’s and Davis’ seats will be up for election in 2020. Davis’ appointment also leaves a vacancy on the state Court of Appeals. Cooper will have the power to fill it.

Several people have already announced their intentions to run for a seat on the state Supreme Court, including the only Republican on the court, Justice Paul Newby, who will challenge Beasley for the leadership position.

Other likely candidates in 2020 include Phil Berger Jr., who currently serves on the state Court of Appeals – he is also the son of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger – and former state Senate member Tamara Barringer, a Wake County attorney.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

(Note: Managing Editor Billy Ball contributed to this report.)

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Education, News

What this week’s court order means for N.C.’s unpaid $730 million tab to school districts

Running out the clock, it seems, is not an option for remedying North Carolina’s $730 million technology tab to local school districts.

That’s the takeaway from Wake Superior Court Judge Vince Rozier’s order this week extending a hefty judgement against the state for civil penalties unconstitutionally diverted from schools from 1996 to 2005.

A judge sided with local districts in their case against the state in 2008, but that order was set to expire last year until school board leaders filed a new suit.

Meanwhile, the state — which is not contesting its lingering bill — has been non-committal in addressing their debt. Funds would be used exclusively for school tech.

At least 30 percent of school districts say they don’t have the money to meet the state’s goal for replacing mobile devices every four years, according to the N.C. School Boards Association, which advocates for local boards of education.

Minnie Forte-Brown

“In this ever-changing, high-tech world, that’s unacceptable,” Minnie Forte-Brown, immediate NCSBA past president, said in a statement this week.

The 2008 ruling set the bill, but the courts agree they do not have the power to direct the state in the manner of how they repay their debt. State agencies have only paid about $18 million of the original $750 million ruling.

That leaves school boards waiting to see if and when North Carolina lawmakers take action, no sure thing when state school leaders regularly wage bruising battles with legislators over K-12 cash.

At the very least, the expired ruling means lawmakers won’t get a pass by virtue of the clock.

Read Ed NC‘s report on the ruling below:

A Wake County Superior Court Judge extended a nearly $730 million judgment against the state today for failing to give money received from civil penalties to school districts.

A 2008 court decision said the state owed the public schools almost $750 million in civil penalties collected by state agencies. Since the decision, the state’s public schools have only received about $18 million.

The crux of the issue revolves around the time period between 1996 and 2005, when the state held back money that the courts later said was owed to the state’s public schools under the state constitution. While schools have been receiving the money they’re owed since then, districts are still trying to collect on money owed prior to 2005.

Back in August, The North Carolina School Boards Association (NCSBA) and other plaintiffs refiled the lawsuit because the original judgment was only valid for 10 years and a second lawsuit had to be filed to keep it alive.

“We are pleased that the court extended the judgment against the state,” said Billy Griffin, president of the NCSBA and chairman of the Board of Education in Jones County, in a press release. “These funds are vitally important to public schools across the state because there is certainly no shortage of needs for technology.”

The money from the judgment is meant to be spent on technology, because that is what it was originally meant to be used for.

Historically, the General Assembly has taken no action to repay the money from the judgment, but that appears to be changing. A provision in the House construction bond bill filed by Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, addresses the issue. It says that funds used from the construction bond for school technology shall be credit against that $730 million judgment.

“NCSBA continues to stress to the General Assembly the need to develop a payment structure to return the funds due to the public school students of this state for technology. We are encouraged by the inclusion in Speaker Moore’s bond proposal that any funds used for technology will be credited against the judgment. This is the first of several steps necessary to address the judgment for several years,” said Leanne Winner, NCSBA director of governmental relations, in a press release.