Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

NC Supreme Court celebrates 200-year history

Members of the North Carolina Supreme Court gathered Monday for a bicentennial celebration. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Giants of the legal profession gathered Monday to celebrate the North Carolina Supreme Court’s bicentennial.

A lot of things have changed over the past 200 years, including the state constitution numerous times, but one thing that hasn’t is the high court’s steadfast commitment to consistency and justice for all.

“We lay down our preferences and opinions in pursuit of the rule of law,” said Chief Justice Mark Martin in his celebratory address. “Our freedoms as Americans are secured by the rule of law.”

The historic celebration included a documentary video and remarks by former and current justices of the Supreme Court. Dignitaries from all three branches of government were in attendance, including Gov. Roy Cooper, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Council of State members, justices of the Supreme Court, judges of the Court of Appeals and judicial officials from across the state.

Cooper and Forest, who sat next to each other in the front row, each wearing a navy blue suit, spoke about how the Supreme Court rises above politics. Cooper said the court often acts as an equalizer and Forest spoke about its role in exercising judicial restraint.

“It has stood the test of time because it has served the people well,” Forest said.

Former Supreme Court Justice Willis Whichard gave an overview of the court’s 200-year history. He spoke about many the court’s firsts and about its 100 justices and 28 chief justices over the years.

“May this grand ol’ institution not only survive but thrive,” he concluded.

U.S. District Court Judge James Wynn attended a state Supreme Court celebration Monday. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Gov. Roy Cooper and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest spoke Monday at the state Supreme Court’s bicentennial celebration. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Former Supreme Court Justices Barbara Jackson and Patricia Timmons-Goodson were at a bicentennial celebration Monday. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Courts & the Law, News

Today: Supreme Court considering taking on NC partisan gerrymandering

Once again, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering taking on partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina.

The high court is taking up League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho and Rucho v. Common Cause — similar cases that were tried and decided together in a lower court — in conference, gerrymandering cases in which a federal court has twice found the state’s 2016 congressional redistricting plan to be unconstitutional.

Justices will discuss the case and decide whether to schedule it for arguments this term, with an announcement possible as early as Monday morning. It’s also possible that they could relist the case for discussion at another conference.

Professor Rick Hasen of the University of California, Irvine School of Law, who is an avid U.S. Supreme Court watcher, posted a thread on Twitter yesterday outlining the potential outcomes, and it’s worth a read.

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy

Editorial: Reject Mark Harris’ plea to seat him

Rev. Mark Harris

North Carolina’s chaotic 9th District fiasco took another turn Thursday, with Republican candidate Mark Harris asking a court to step in and seal his victory over Democrat Dan McCready, despite mounting evidence that something went badly awry during the election.

Given the blooming investigation into possible election fraud, it’s a bad faith effort that could only damage the public’s good faith in our election process, a point highlighted in a sterling editorial Thursday evening from The Fayetteville Observer.

But with the already apparent resistance to seating Harris in the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, which has the power to rebuff him in his quest for a seat, the crisis for 9th District voters seems far from finished.

Check out the editorial below:

Mark Harris’ desperate struggle to claim a tarnished election victory in the 9th Congressional District moved to Wake County Superior Court Thursday as his campaign asked a judge to order the state elections director to certify his victory. That’s a bad idea that could turn out to be a far-reaching miscarriage of justice. While the official vote count gives Harris a 905-vote lead over Democrat Dan McCready, affidavits and other evidence already made public cast doubts on the legitimacy of that victory. Tampering with absentee ballots almost certainly occurred and until several investigations are completed, we won’t know if Harris actually has enough votes to win. Certifying his victory at this point is a risky decision based on guesses and wishful thinking.

It’s unclear when any informed decisions will be made about the elections, since constitutional questions about the elections board led the courts to dissolve it. A hearing on the 9th District race had been scheduled for next week but has been indefinitely postponed until a new board is seated at the end of this month. Harris argues that “Time is of the essence” and that district residents shouldn’t be deprived of representation. But Sen. Thom Tillis has already stepped forward and told residents to contact his office for any assistance they may need with federal issues. That removes any need to rush.

Meanwhile, Republicans appear to forget (conveniently, we expect) that in 2014, when former 12th District Congressman Mel Watt resigned to take a position in the Obama administration, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and fellow party leaders chose to leave the post vacant until the next election. Residents of the 12th went 10 months without a congressman and the GOP saw no problem with that. After all, they said, there were saving taxpayers $1 million by not holding a special election.

And now it’s life-and-death to have a certified congressman from the 9th, whether or not he really won?

Even if a Superior Court judge orders Harris seated, two other things are likely to delay his journey to Washington:

• Any decision to seat him would almost certainly be appealed to a higher court.

• And the new Democratic leaders of the House of Representatives, who were sworn in on Thursday, have already said they’ll refuse to seat Harris until the investigations are completed. Those leaders have constitutional authority to order a new election — complete with a primary — anyway. If the evidence continues to point to widespread fraud, that’s what they’re likely to do, if the state doesn’t get there first.

Let’s take the time to get this right.


Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Anita Earls sworn in as new Supreme Court justice in standing room only ceremony

Anita Earls was sworn in Thursday as a new justice on the state Supreme Court. Here she chats with individuals at a reception in her honor at the old state capitol. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

The newest state Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls had a swearing in ceremony Thursday afternoon that drew a crowd of North Carolina’s biggest movers and shakers in both the legal and legislative world.

Earls wore a classic black skirt suit with an airy white blouse and a shiny gold and silver floral broach pinned onto the middle of her collar. She had the state Supreme Court seal pinned to her lapel. Her big smile was shining; her happiness oozed, and the hugs she gave the people in the room were genuine — it was not the state many are used to seeing her in, particularly in the courtroom. As an attorney, Earls was always the epitome of buttoned up and professional, remaining cool, calm and collected even during what could be perceived as intimidating moments.

Her ceremony attendance list was a long one; more than 300 people RSVP’d to the event, and there were at least three run-off rooms for the crowds that could’t make it to the main Supreme Court courtroom. Attendees included John Edwards, Attorney General Josh Stein, former Chief Justices Henry Frye and Sarah Parker, Gov. Roy Cooper, Patricia Timmons-Goodson, Federal Judge James Wynn, former Justices Bob Edmunds and Bob Orr and many, many legislators.

Per tradition, Barbara Jackson, who lost the race in the midterm to Earls, did not attend the event.

Earls was described by colleagues and friends at the event as esteemed, incredibly hard working and wholly devoted to equal access to justice, and they put their full faith in her. Her election tips the Supreme Court to a 5-2 Democratic majority.

She has a prestigious background with varied experience and is known prominently for her civil rights work. She also founded the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ), of which Kareem Crayton is now the interim director.

“There simply would not be an SCSJ without the vision, energy, and commitment of Anita Earls to build an organization that has become a key force in effort to make the South a more equal, just and inclusive place for its citizens,” he said after her ceremony. “Thousands of people across this region are better off today because of the work she has led.”

Crayton said they remain grateful for all that Earls has done, and he congratulated her on a “remarkable achievement.”

Earls, who is the 100th Supreme Court justice, vowed to pull through on her promises to the state. She also spoke about why the job is so important to her.

“Growing up in the time and place that I did, as a young girl, I believed it was my responsibility to bring together my family, my community and my country across the racial lines that divided us” she said during her remarks. “Indeed, I saw that my life, my very survival depended on it.”

She feared her family would be torn apart, and believed she had to bring everyone together to show shared humanity and guarantee equal opportunities for all.

“Now I understand so many years later that bringing us together across all the lines that threaten to divide us: race, gender, ideology, wealth, among others, I understand that no one person can do it alone. It will take changes in our culture. It is influenced by the millions of choices that we all make every day. And it will take all of our countries, public and private institutions, to affect that healing, to bring us together for the common good, to lift us up instead of tearing each other apart. And it requires a system of justice that adheres to the rule of law, a system of laws and institutions to enforce them — they genuinely and with intellectual honesty aspires to equal justice. A system in which no one is above the law, and justice does not depend on gender, wealth, status, political party, race, creed or color. The cases that come before this court impact individual people’s lives in profound ways and have wide-ranging effects on the future of this state. I pledge to give every case full and fair consideration. My personal commitment is to serve justice with a strong heart.”

Below are some of the photos from her event:

Now-Justice Anita Earls talks with her husband during a swearing in ceremony Thursday. (Photo by Melissa Boughton

A Supreme Court justice claps on Anita Earls at her swearing in ceremony Thursday (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Gov. Roy Cooper sat next to Anita Earls on Thursday at her swearing in ceremony. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Former state Supreme Court Chief Justices Sarah Parker and Henry Frye chat after Justice Anita Earls’ swearing in ceremony. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

State Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls chats with former presidential candidate John Edwards at a reception in her honor. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Jane Pinsky takes a photo of new Justice Anita Earls at a reception at the old state capitol. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

New Justice Anita Earls talks with new Durham District Attorney Satana Deberry. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Courts & the Law, News

Cooper changes his mind on Elections Board appointments after GOP refused to nominate

Gov. Roy Cooper

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday that he would not appoint a temporary Board of Elections because the state Republican Party refuses to nominate anyone.

The announcement comes less than a week after Cooper’s attorney sent Republican Party Chair Robin Hayes a letter stating the Governor had the authority to appoint members to the board regardless of their nominations and planned to do just that.

The nine-member State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement dissolved Friday after a three-judge Wake County Superior Court panel declined to extend a stay ruling the structure — created by Republican legislative leaders — unconstitutional.

Lawmakers recently passed another bill restructuring the State Board again, but it does not take effect until Jan. 31. Cooper had planned to appoint a State Board to work between now and then.

Since he will no longer appoint temporary members, it will derail a Jan. 11 hearing related to the alleged absentee ballot fraud investigation in the 9th congressional district.

“To ensure that the Board remains fair and bipartisan and to make sure all North Carolinians have confidence in its decisions, Governor Cooper has declined to appoint a Board with only three members selected from the names put forward by the Democratic Party,” states the Wednesday news release. “Instead, no Board members have been named due to the Republican Party’s failure to provide nominees to the Board.

This failure could obstruct an ongoing investigation into disturbing allegations of election fraud and prevent a duly appointed, constitutional Board of Elections from being able to hear evidence and make an informed decision. For example, a hearing previously planned for January 11 on the 9th Congressional District investigation cannot go forward without members being named to the Board.”

Cooper also stated that he had envisioned the members of the temporary Board of Elections being appointed to the permanent one Jan. 31, but since Republicans failed to nominate anyone, that won’t happen. He criticized the majority party for passing four laws in two years altering the State Board.

“Quickly rooting out real election fraud should be a bipartisan effort,” he said. “Today in North Carolina, we have a Board of Elections with five empty chairs because Republicans are blocking the way.”

Read the full statement here.