Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Tomorrow: House members hold hearing on NC voting rights, elections administration

The U.S. House Administration Committee Subcommittee on Elections will host a field hearing tomorrow morning about voting rights and election administration in North Carolina.

The public meeting will begin at 10 a.m. at the Centre at Halifax Community College in Weldon. The evidence from the hearing will be used as Congress seeks to reestablish Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which was suspended by the U.S. Supreme Court.

There are two panels expected to speak at the hearing. The first panelists are the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, Democracy NC Executive Director Tomas Lopez and North Carolina Central University School of Law professor Irving Joyner. The second panelists are U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Vice-Chair Patricia Timmons-Goodson, North Carolina Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake) and Forward Justice Co-Director Caitlin Swain.

The Committee has been holding similar hearings across the country. The North Carolina meeting will be livestreamed on the Committee’s website.

Voting rights and election administration has been center stage in North Carolina over the past several months — after absentee ballot fraud in the state’s 9th congressional district, there was a decision to hold a new election; voting rights advocates are also currently fighting a new voter ID law; and the U.S. Supreme Court is currently deciding whether the state can gerrymander voting districts along party lines.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Retired Justice Kennedy ’embodies’ rule of law, receives award at Duke

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy received the inaugural Bolch Prize on Thursday at Duke University. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy was honored Thursday evening with the inaugural Bolch Prize for the rule of law by the Bolch Judicial Institute of Duke Law School.

“You have embodied the ideals of fairness, human rights and the rule of law,” said Duke University President Vincent Price.

Judge Allyson K. Duncan, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, praised the retired Justice’s international work and his sharing of best practices, critical work to preserving the rule of law, she said.

Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Allyson Duncan honored retired Justice Anthony Kennedy on Thursday for his dedication to the rule of law. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

His former colleague, current U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito highlighted his service and dedication to many, many cases — in his 30 years on the high court, he authored 266 opinions of the court and 544 in all; he sat on more than 2,400 cases, he said.

Alito also said Kennedy was about the lesson of civility and was always dedicated to the perseverance of human humility and humanity. He also called attention to Kennedy’s dedication to always hearing both sides of every argument.

“It’s vitally important in our legal system that both sides be heard,” he said. “I don’t know anybody whose work embodies ore open mindedness.”

Kennedy has served in numerous positions during his career, including a member of the California Army National Guard in 1961, the board of the Federal Judicial Center from 1987 to 1988, and two committees of the Judicial Conference of the United States: the Advisory Panel on Financial Disclosure Reports and Judicial Activities, subsequently renamed the Advisory Committee on Codes of Conduct, from 1979 to 1987, and the Committee on Pacific Territories from 1979 to 1990, which he chaired from 1982 to 1990.

He was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 1975. President Ronald Reagan nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat February 18, 1988. Kennedy retired from the Supreme Court last summer.

Justice Samuel Alito, pictured on the right, attended a ceremony Thursday honoring his former colleague, retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Kennedy is widely recognized for his devotion to the Constitution and his efforts to share the ideals of liberty and democracy with students and audiences around the world. He has spoken frequently of his commitment to the rule of law and the need for a judge to always be neutral and fair, according to his Bolch biography.

“Through public appearances and teaching engagements, Justice Kennedy has worked to build public understanding of and appreciation for the role of an independent judiciary in a functioning democracy,” it states. “He has lectured at law schools and universities in many countries, speaking about the rule of law and the connections between economic and social progress and a system of laws that protect freedom and prevent corruption. And he has helped to develop educational tools about the rule of law and the role of the judiciary for students in the United States and abroad.”

At the ceremony Thursday honoring Kennedy, he spoke about how essential it is for the rule of law to be properly defined to defend freedom and human dignity.

“The law comes from the people to the government, and that law must human dignity and human freedom, and the law must be accessible,” he said.

The rule of law, Kennedy said, has been under attack and to fight it, the first thing people must develop again is a civil dialogue. Much like the glass award he received, the law can show new beauty and new dimensions when the light shines through, but it can also be broken.

“Once the rule of law is broken, it requires great effort to fix it, and you’re not as sure it will be as beautiful the next time,” Kennedy said.

Retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, pictured right, speaks Thursday to Carl Bolch Jr. and Susan Bass Bolch, who sponsored the inaugural Bolch Prize, of which he received. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

He added that he was inspired and honored, and would cherish the award to rededicate time to teaching and writing and continuing to advance the law, “that in the end must bind us.”

The Bolch Judicial Institute is dedicated to bettering the human condition through studying and promoting the rule of law, according to its website. Established at Duke Law School in 2018 with a $10 million gift from Carl Bolch Jr. and Susan Bass Bolch, the Institute develops research, scholarship, and educational programs in three focus areas: the rule of law; courts and judging; and law and technology.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Author of gerrymandering book Ratf**ked brings sliver of hope to battle for democracy

David Daley

David Daley wrote an entire book about gerrymandering and the story behind the secret plan to steal America’s democracy, and he walked away with a rebirth of optimism and hope.

The Ratf**ked author spoke Thursday night at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and tried to spread the same message. He detailed citizen-led reforms across the nation that he got a front row seat to see, and he said the crucial battle had been engaged by Republicans perfecting the ancient gerrymander.

“Success does not mean the end of a fight,” Daley said. “Keeping a democracy, it turns out, means a lot of work. … These battles on behalf of what’s right are the proof.”

One of the most successful fights against gerrymandering began in Michigan with a Facebook post from a 27-year-old woman named Katie Fahey.

“I’d like to take on gerrymandering in Michigan,” it stated. “If you’re interested in doing this as well, please let me know.”

It became a statewide movement and Fahey raised millions of dollars and collected hundreds of thousands of signatures for a petition.

Daley told more inspiring stories of change — a Medicaid for All movement in Idaho that shook things up, and in North Dakota, Native Americans organized an identification drive in response to a voter ID law that resulted in the election of the state’s first Native American legislator.

In North Carolina, a curious citizen embarked on a quest to find out why Republicans took so many congressional seats even though Democrats had more of the votes. Duke professor Jonathan Mattingly ended up producing more than 24,000 maps that showed what an outlier the state’s 2016 congressional map was, and his work was cited many times in the most recent U.S. Supreme Court partisan gerrymandering cases.

“[Gerrymandering] has fired up America’s grassroots,” Daley said.

He didn’t sugarcoat the state of gerrymandering, though, and explained that super data and super computers have severed the will of the people from the politicians who serve them.

“Partisan gerrymandering has always been a partisan weapon — it’s just the technology that makes it so lethal,” he said.

Daley said he is hopeful the courts will step in — the high court is supposed to make a decision by June about if it will put limits on partisan gerrymandering.

He added that fixing partisan gerrymandering was in the best interest of everyone, and shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

“If democracy itself becomes a partisan issue, we are cooked,” he said.

Commentary, Defending Democracy, Education, election fraud, News

The Week’s Top Stories on Policy Watch

1. DEQ orders Duke Energy to excavate remaining coal ash impoundments

Duke Energy must excavate its final nine coal ash impoundments at six plants, state environmental regulators announced today, overruling the utility’s concerns that the method would be too expensive and environmentally risky.

“DEQ rigorously reviewed the proposals, and the science points us clearly to excavation as the only way to protect public health and the environment,” said DEQ Secretary Michael Regan in a prepared statement.

“Today’s action sends another clear message that protecting public health and natural resources is a top priority of the Cooper administration.”

Duke had proposed to either cap the material in place — in leaking, unlined landfills — or to develop a “hybrid” of excavation and cap-in-place. At public meetings across the state, residents demanded that DEQ force the utility to fully excavate all of the material and place it in a lined landfill.[Read more…]

Bonus read: The big Duke coal ash clean-up: Where things stand and what to expect next

2. A $400 win for teachers could cost North Carolina school districts $40 million

Superintendent Mark Johnson can’t seem to win for losing.

Johnson was part of big press conference Wednesday at the state Legislative Building during which he and State Sen. Andy Wells, (R-Catawba) partnered to announce their proposal of a new program to give the state’s 94,000 licensed teachers $400 a year each to buy classrooms supplies.

The announcement could have been a celebratory occasion.

But there was one missing element: Lisa Godwin.

Godwin, the 2017 North Carolina Teacher of the Year, was listed as a press conference participant but decided not to attend because of concern about how the program would be funded.[Read more…]

Bonus read: Superintendent Mark Johnson takes issue with critics who say SB 580 robs ‘Peter to pay Paul’

3. Four initial takeaways from the Robin Hayes corruption case

This has been another remarkable week in North Carolina. Once again, a dark cloud of corruption has descended upon and enveloped the state’s politics as federal prosecutors unsealed an extraordinary grand jury indictment of one of the state’s best known politicians and a trio of well-heeled businessmen.

Among other things, the indictment accuses Robin Hayes – a scion of the Cannon textile dynasty, as well as a former congressman, state representative, Republican gubernatorial nominee and, until this week, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party* – of participating in a brazen scheme to bribe the state’s Republican Insurance Commissioner with illegal campaign contributions. Also indicted were the state’s largest individual political donor – Durham businessman Greg Lindberg – and two of his employees, John Palermo and John Gray.

What’s more, there could be more indictments on the way. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, who cooperated with federal officials and apparently wore a wire that captured some of the most incriminating statements described in the indictment, told the Charlotte Observer yesterday that “There could be more indictments to come. We don’t know what may happen. And with a case this complex and complicated, it may take months and months and months or years to get everything sorted out.” [Read more…]

4. After sweeping order, an end to coal ash in NC? All bets are off.

North Carolina’s coal ash problem didn’t begin in February 2014, when a corrugated pipe at a Rockingham County Duke Energy facility vomited 39,000 tons of coal ash and about 27 million gallons of contaminated water into the Dan River.

The documented dangers of the coal byproduct predated even a one billion gallon spill in Kingston, Tennessee, six years prior, a spill large enough to fill thousands of Olympic swimming pools.

And North Carolina’s coal ash problem didn’t end hours later, when the billion-dollar, energy juggernaut assured North Carolina officials, incorrectly, that the river – about 70 miles of which was coated in a blue-gray, toxic plume – was no drinking water supply.[Read more…]

5. NC lawmakers push Medicaid work requirements as patients, advocates and courts push back

Emily Henderson was kicked off of Medicaid last year when she went from making $8 per hour at her job to $10 per hour. The raise put her over the income limit. Her son, who is diabetic, remains covered, but she has to choose more often than not between paying to take care of her own health without insurance coverage and paying her bills.

Her story of losing coverage is one that could become a reality for many more people if Republican lawmakers in the North Carolina General Assembly pass a bill to implement work reporting requirements for “able-bodied” adults who receive Medicaid health benefits.

The current income limits are “already making it difficult,” Henderson said. “They’re handcuffing people to poverty to maintain healthcare,” she continued.[Read more…]

6. House Speaker needs to take action regarding lawmaker accused of domestic violence

By many of the usual political metrics, State Rep. Cody Henson ought to be an up and comer.

Henson, a young (he was graduated from high school in 2010) Republican from western North Carolina is an ex-Marine with a winning smile. His biography on the website VoteSmart.org reports that he was an infantry machine gun team leader in the Marine Corps Reserve who then found work as a call center supervisor with a global marketing company. He is described as a member of Midway Baptist Church whose favorite quote (“I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is purpose and worth to each and every life.”) is attributed to Ronald Reagan.

Meanwhile, the list of contributors to his campaigns reads like a “who’s who” of the modern North Carolina political establishment:[Read more…]

7. Facing ACLU deadline, N.C. officials balk on transferring transgender inmate from men’s prison


Kanautica Zayre-Brown, a transgender woman seeking transfer out of a men’s prison in Lillington, spent much of last month in solitary confinement.

But last week, as the deadline to avoid a lawsuit from the ACLU approached, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety transferred Zayre-Brown from the Harnett County Correctional Institution. Not to a women’s prison, as she and the ACLU had requested, but to the smaller Warren Correctional Institution for men in Warren County, near the Virginia border.

“At Warren, Zayre-Brown is housed in a single cell as opposed to an open dormitory, which has been deemed the most appropriate placement at this time,” said DPS spokesman John Bull in a statement Monday. “Prisons has been and will continue diligently conducting research on legal precedent and best practices across the country with an eventual goal of moving Zayre-Brown to a female facility.”[Read more…]

8. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

 

Click here for a larger image

 

Commentary, Defending Democracy

Hayes-Lindberg scandal demands a revival of publicly financed elections

More than 80 percent of Americans believe that elected officials do favors for big campaign donors, according to a recent national poll. Recently, a billionaire campaign donor attempted to secure just such a favor—right here in North Carolina. With the chairman of the state Republican Party Robin Hayes (pictured at left) recently indicted in a scheme to undermine the public trust by orchestrating a bribe of state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, it’s clear that protections that shield our democracy from abuse are broken.

Time and time again, we see it’s too easy for moneyed special interests to crowd out everyday people in backroom deals. The indictment of Hayes paints a picture of a campaign donor, Greg Lindberg, asking for a clear quid pro quo—campaign cash in exchange for favorable treatment by the government.

This unfolding case reminds us that North Carolina needs to revive laws that were designed to combat the influence of wealthy special interests by supporting small-donors with public financing. North Carolina had a system of public financing for statewide judicial races and elections for insurance commissioner, state auditor, and state superintendent. This program allowed judges and regulators to avoid relying on large contributions from wealthy donors like Lindberg.

Public servants like Causey shouldn’t have to balance the desires of the public with the pressure to please big-money interests. When quid pro quo deals are allowed to take place in our democracy, they subvert the voices of the people, who elected public officials to serve their interests, not wealthy special interests.

Sadly, this recent development only reinforces what many North Carolinians have been feeling for some time now: that their voices are not heard, and that their government fails to represent their concerns or meet their needs.

Voters want to believe in their democracy again. For that to happen, we need to enact common-sense reforms to cure our broken political system. North Carolina’s successful experiment in small donor public financing met its demise in 2013, even though it was a model program for how states can keep public officials from feeling beholden to moneyed interests.

It’s time to return to small donor public financing to ensure that everyone’s voice matters, counts, and is heard. Not only must we reinstate public financing for state insurance commissioner elections, we should go a step further and expand it to all Council of State offices as well as statewide judicial elections. Our state’s motto is “Esse quam videri” — Latin for “to be rather than to seem.”

If the motto is going to retain any real meaning, it’s essential that we demand a democracy that is truly—rather than just seemingly—of, by, and for the people.

Melissa Price Kromm is the Director of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections