Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Vox explores how Hofeller shifted power in new video about gerrymandering

The late GOP mapmaker Thomas Hofeller has become synonymous with partisan gerrymandering in the U.S., but it’s his work in North Carolina that really captured people’s attention.

Vox put together a video last week that explores how Hofeller shifted the balance of power by taking gerrymandering to the extreme, and it zeroes in on North Carolina.

“Perhaps his greatest work was in his late years,” states an article introducing the video. “In 2010, after Republicans took over several statehouses, Hofeller helped redraw several statehouse maps, including the maps in North Carolina. Gerrymandering has been around for centuries, but in that redistricting cycle, Hofeller tested the limits of exactly how much power one party can accrue — without actually having a majority of the electorate support them.

“When the Supreme Court struck down his maps for diluting the voting power of black people, Hofeller drew another round of maps that diluted the political power of Democrats.”

For years, there was speculation about Hofeller’s motives during redistricting in North Carolina, but it wasn’t until after his death that people began to see it concretely after his daughter turned over his digital files to plaintiffs in a partisan gerrymandering case. Some of those files have been made public, but the majority have been kept confidential.

A judge is expected to rule this week on the publicity of the entirety of the Hofeller files. In the meantime, check out the video above.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

ACLU of NC asks court to declare solitary confinement unconstitutional

North Carolina inmates in solitary confinement are kept in cells that are no bigger than a parking space for 22 to 24 hours a day with little to no human contact. If they were healthy before being confined to such extreme punishment, they often get sick, and if they were unhealthy, it exacerbates their situation.

The ACLU is arguing solitary confinement is a form of cruel and unusual punishment in a new lawsuit filed this week against Erik Hooks, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and the agency itself. Rocky Dewalt, Robert Parham, Anthony McGee and Shawn Bonnett are named plaintiffs in the suit who have spent collectively more than 23 years in solitary confinement.

“Typical adverse effects [from solitary confinement] include depression, panic, paranoia, anxiety, self-mutilation, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, cardiovascular disease, hallucinations, extreme social withdrawal, and exacerbation or recurrence of preexisting mental illness,” the lawsuit states. “These effects often begin within just a few hours or days of placement in solitary, and do not necessarily end when the placement does. People who leave solitary often continue to suffer from severe social withdrawal, symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress, and increased risks of suicide and drug overdose.

“A growing chorus of medical professionals, courts, and public officials have acknowledged the potentially devastating effects of solitary confinement, the practice’s limited utility in promoting rehabilitation and public safety, and the need for change.”

The lawsuit states that DPS routinely subjects thousands of North Carolina inmates to prolonged or indefinite amounts of solitary confinement.

In addition to living in small spaces with minimal human interaction and no meaningful access to the outdoors, out-of-cell “recreation” for inmates in solitary confinement typically consists of no more than five hours a week in a slightly larger cell, according to the lawsuit. Those inmates eat their meals alone, just a few feet from where they urinate and defecate.

“Defendants do not reserve solitary confinement as a punishment for the most severe disciplinary infractions, or as an emergency measure for addressing safety threats,” the document states. “People who commit minor infractions, such as cursing at a guard, may spend months in isolation as a result. Defendants’ policies do not even require a conviction of any prison rule violation before placing someone in North Carolina’s ‘supermax’ unit.

“While some people in Defendants’ custody commit serious infractions, they often do so as a result of severe, untreated mental illness. Prolonged solitary confinement will only exacerbate their illness, stunting rehabilitation and making prison conditions all the more dangerous.”

The ACLU maintains that viable alternatives to solitary confinement exist, and they ask the court to declare restrictive housing policies and practices as unconstitutional. Read the full lawsuit below.



Aclu Pls Solitary Complaint 10 16 19 (Text)

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Survey: Most Americans trust the U.S. Supreme Court

Courtesy of Annenberg Public Policy Center

A recent survey showed that most Americans see the U.S. Supreme Court as a trusted institution.

The latest survey from the Annenburg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania showed two-thirds (68 percent) of those surveyed — 1,104 U.S. adults — trust the highest court in the land to operate in the best interests of the American people, while 70 percent said the court has “about the right amount of power.”

The survey also identified troubling signs in how the Supreme Court and the justices are perceived by the public, suggesting that the distinction between judges and elected politicians is becoming blurred. More than half of Americans (57 percent) agree with the statement that the court “gets too mixed up in politics.” And just half of the respondents (49 percent) hold the view that Supreme Court justices set aside their personal and political views and make rulings based on the Constitution, the law, and the facts of the case.

“Because the well-being of our system of government depends on the integrity of an independent, impartial, fair judiciary and on the public perception that judges honor these expectations, the persistently high levels of trust in the Supreme Court that we find reflected in Annenberg surveys should be celebrated,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Center. “But the finding that half do not believe that Supreme Court justices set aside their personal beliefs in deciding cases is worrisome.”

The survey was conducted in August for the Policy Center in advance of the Fair & Impartial Judiciary Symposium on Oct. 26 at the University of Pennsylvania. Read the full findings here.

The U.S. Supreme Court has been in an especially intense political spotlight ever since Senate Republicans blocked former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland. President Donald Trump has since nominated conservative Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, who were both confirmed.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Lawmakers trying to remove new partisan gerrymandering case from state court

North Carolina Republican legislative defendants have asked for a federal court to remove a partisan gerrymandering case over the 2016 Congressional map from the state courts.

A court document filed Monday alleges there is a “colorable conflict” between lawmakers’ federal duties under the equal rights act and the alleged state law duties. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Congressional voters who live in districts alleged to have been gerrymandered filed a lawsuit a few weeks ago calling for a three-judge panel to enjoin the 2016 map because of the unconstitutional practice of drawing districts for extreme partisan gain. The suit makes claims under state law following a separate, successful partisan gerrymandering lawsuit over legislative districts.

One of the conflicts lawmakers allege arises out of the state lawsuit is because plaintiffs’ challenged a Congressional district that satisfies the state’s obligations under the Voting Rights Act and they demand the racial composition of the district be dramatically altered, according to the document filed Monday.

Another conflict arises between the plaintiffs’ asserted state-law theories and the legislative defendants’ obligations under federal law because the relief sought would require intentionally dismantling a “crossover” district, which, the document states, would violate an equal-protection prohibition.

The document also states that the plaintiffs’ requested relief in their lawsuit would require “affirmative cooperation” from some agent of the state, something lawmakers can refuse.

In another document, attorney Phil Strach for the legislative defendants argues that the Common Cause v. Lewis case — the state partisan gerrymandering case over legislative districts — is not related to the case in question, Harper v. Lewis, because they involve challenges to different redistricting plans.

He cites a case over President Donald Trump’s federal tax returns and New York tax returns where a court held the two were not related.

“This is substantially similar to the difference between legislative and congressional redistricting plans,” states the court document. “In refusing to grant the related-case designation, the Court noted that the party requesting the related-case designation ‘bears the burden of showing that the cases are related.’ And that the burden ‘is heavy as random assignment of cases is essential to the public’s confidence in an impartial judiciary.’

“Plaintiffs’ cannot meet that burden here, and the Court should follow the Court’s reasoning in Trump v. Comm. On Ways & Means and likewise refuse to designate these cases as related.”

Chief Judge Terrence W. Boyle, a Ronald Reagan appointee, has been assigned to preside over the case. If he decides to remove the case from Wake County Superior Court, it would likely mark the end of congressional partisan gerrymandering litigation because of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that it is a nonjusticiable issue.

The three-judge panel presiding over the state lawsuit is set to hear arguments over a preliminary injunction next week.

The plaintiffs have not yet responded to the legislative defendant’s request to remove the case from state court. They made the same request in Common Cause v. Lewis, and it was denied by the federal court. Read the new court documents below.



Notice of Removal Harver v Lewis (Text)



Harper v Lewis Response (Text)

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Judges set first hearing in Congressional partisan gerrymandering case

The first hearing in a new partisan gerrymandering case over the 2016 Congressional map has been scheduled for Oct. 24.

The same three-judge panel who decided another recent case over legislative districts, Common Cause v. Lewis, will hear this lawsuit, Harper v. Lewis. The plaintiffs, voters from allegedly gerrymandered Congressional districts, filed a motion to expedite proceedings to enjoin the use of the 2016 map ahead of the 2020 elections.

The judges granted it in part, setting the hearing over the injunction for 10 a.m. Oct. 24 at Campbell University School of Law. The legislative defendants have until 5 p.m. Oct. 21 to respond to the motion for the injunction, and the plaintiffs have until two days later to respond to that document.

The intervenors in the case, three incumbent Congressional members, can also respond to the injunction motion and appear at the hearing.

The motion for the preliminary injunction states the case is straightforward and the court can issue it based solely on the official legislative criteria for the creation of the 2016 plan and the admissions of the legislative defendants and the mapmaker at the time, Thomas Hofeller.

They adopted “partisan advantage” as an official criterion, directing that the districts be drawn to produce a Congressional delegation of “10 Republicans and three Democrats,” the document states.

“North Carolinians have voted in unconstitutional Congressional districts in every election this decade,” it states. “They should not be forced to do so again. This court should issue a preliminary injunction enjoining the 2016 Plan and ordering a new, fair plan for the 2020 elections.”

The judges who will preside over the case are Alma Hinton, Paul Ridgeway and Joseph Crosswhite. Read their full order from this week and the notice of the hearing below.



10 10 19 Order on Mtn to Expedite 19 CVS 12667 (Text)



10 10 19 NOH 19 CVS 12667 (Text)