Defending Democracy, News

U.S. House green-lights Trump impeachment inquiry

President Donald Trump (Credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Thursday voted to formalize its impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

Lawmakers adopted a resolution that lays out procedures for the inquiry that is already taking place in the House. That investigation is centered on whether the president abused his power by attempting to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political opponent.

The measure passed largely along partisan lines by a vote of 232-196, with no Republicans backing the resolution. One independent, Justin Amash of Michigan, voted in favor of the resolution and two Democrats voted against it. All 13 North Carolina representatives voted along party lines.

Democrats hailed the resolution as a roadmap that will provide for a fair and transparent process, while Republicans supportive of the president assailed the effort as a political attack.

“What is at stake in all of this is nothing less than our democracy,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said ahead of the vote. “Sadly, this is not any cause for any glee or comfort. This is something that is very solemn.”

House Democratic leadership had previously announced a formal inquiry, but held a floor vote in part to combat complaints from Republicans that the full chamber hadn’t been allowed to vote. Still, Thursday’s vote is unlikely to reduce the partisan fighting over the process.

Trump wrote on Twitter Thursday morning, “The Impeachment Hoax is hurting our Stock Market. The Do Nothing Democrats don’t care!” He added later, “The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!”

Trump’s critics in the House insist that the president’s behavior and their constitutional obligations have driven them to pursue their investigation.

“The House impeachment inquiry has discovered a substantial body of evidence that the president of the United States has violated the Constitution by placing his political interests above the interests of the country, thereby putting both our democracy and the nation’s security in jeopardy,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.). “In light of this evidence, the House of Representatives must fully investigate.”

Raskin said the impeachment inquiry guidelines are “fair and strong and make sure that we can and will defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.) said on the House floor, “I take no joy in contemplating the impeachment of a president, because in contemplating it, we must acknowledge a threat to our constitution and the values that bind us, not only as members of Congress but as Americans.”

House lawmakers, Scanlon added, have tried to investigate allegations of Trump’s misconduct using “traditional means,” only to be “stonewalled” by the White House.

Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) said he didn’t come to Congress to pursue an impeachment process, but “the facts demand it.” He added, “What we decide today will say more about us than it says about the conduct of the president.”

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) said, “It’s time for the American people to see how the administration put our national security on the auction block in exchange for political favors.”  Read more

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

NC lawmakers failed to enact anti-immigration legislation, so now U.S. Congressmen will try

Pictured from left are U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and U.S. Representatives Dan Bishop, Ted Budd and Richard Hudson. They are all North Carolina Republicans.

North Carolina legislative Republicans couldn’t pass a law forcing sheriffs to honor requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold people in jail, so now a group of U.S. congressmen from the state is introducing federal legislation to try and get the job done.

Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Representatives Dan Bishop (R-NC-9), Ted Budd (R-NC-13) and Richard Hudson (R-NC-8) introduced the Immigration Detainer Enforcement Act today, which would “clarify” ICE’s detainer authority and force local law enforcement to comply with their requests to hold people in jail for them to pick up.

The measure would also “incentivize cooperation between law enforcement agencies and DHS through the reimbursement of certain detention, technology, and litigation-related costs,” according to a news release.

“North Carolinians are rightfully disturbed that a handful of local sheriffs are putting politics ahead of public safety by implementing reckless sanctuary policies that release dangerous criminals back into our communities and make it harder for federal law enforcement to do their jobs,” said Tillis in the release. “I am proud to introduce this legislation to eliminate the excuse sheriffs are using to justify why they ignore detainer requests made by [the Department of Homeland Security]. By clarifying their authority and incentivizing cooperation, we can better enforce our nation’s immigration laws and keep North Carolinians safe from dangerous criminals.”

An ICE detainer is a request for local law enforcement to hold individuals they believe are not lawful citizens in jail or prison for up to 48 hours until the federal agency can take custody and begin deportation proceedings. The individuals targeted by detainer requests are typically otherwise eligible for release from jail or prison.

The detainer requests are not judicial orders signed by any court official, and they are not arrest warrants that require any kind of finding of probable cause. Because they are requests, local law enforcement can choose whether to enforce them or not, and most urban areas across the state have chosen to only work with ICE as much as the law requires (which means not volunteering to honor those requests or any others from the federal agency).

Republicans in the General Assembly tried to address the lack of voluntary cooperation among urban sheriffs in the state by passing House Bill 370, legislation that would have punished law enforcement that didn’t honor ICE detainer requests. It was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper and lawmakers have not attempted to override that outcome.

According to the news release from U.S. Republican congressmen, the Immigration Detainer Enforcement Act specifically:

  • Gives explicit authority to the arresting federal, state, tribal, or local law enforcement agency to maintain custody of an illegal immigrant for a period not to exceed 48 hours to permit assumption of custody by the DHS, upon the issuance of a detainer.
  • Allows the federal government to enter into agreements with the arresting law enforcement agency to indemnify these agencies against wrongful detention claims by third parties which resulted from a detainer issued without reason to believe the individual is a removable illegal immigrant. Indemnification will not extend to claims relating to negligence or willful misconduct.
  • Makes jurisdictions ineligible for reimbursement of detention costs if they are certified by the DHS Secretary as being non-compliant with ICE.
  • Jurisdictions that are deemed non-compliant by the DHS Secretary will not receive priority when being considered for funding from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program and when benefiting from the 1033 and 1122 programs.

They are seven newly-elected African-American sheriffs who have said they are targeted by anti-immigration legislation because of their political ideologies. They have said they aren’t breaking any laws and are focused on public safety for everyone, not just citizens.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Court approves remedial legislative maps, strikes down 2016 congressional maps

A three-judge panel has approved remedial legislative districts that were enacted last month after the last ones were found to be an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The same panel, though, delivered news a few minutes later that they would require a new congressional map ahead of the 2020 election.

In the Common Cause v. Lewis ruling, the panel stated that lawmakers’ remedial process comported with their court order requiring they use certain redistricting criteria, not use partisan data and conduct redistricting in full public view.

The plaintiffs had objected to only five county-groupings in the House map, but the judges were satisfied with each, so they did not order that any be redrawn by the referee, Stanford Law Professor Nathaniel Persily.

In the Harper v. Lewis ruling, the same panel ruled that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their challenge that the 2016 congressional map in North Carolina is an extreme partisan gerrymander.

“Quite notably in this case, the 2016 congressional districts have already been the subject of years-long litigation in federal court arising from challenges to the districts on partisan gerrymandering grounds,” the order states. “As such, there is a detailed record of both the partisan intent and the intended partisan effects of the 2016 congressional districts drawn with the aid of Dr. Thomas Hofeller and enacted by the General Assembly.”

The judges noted in the order that the loss to the plaintiffs’ fundamental rights will “undoubtedly” be irreparable if congressional elections are allowed to proceed under the 2016 plan.

The legislative defendants in the case argued to the court that they too would suffer harm if the court issued an injunction, but the panel said voters’ rights were more important.

“Simply put, the people of our State will lose the opportunity to participate in congressional elections conducted freely and honestly to ascertain, fairly and truthfully, the will of the people,” the court document states. “The court finds that this specific harm to plaintiffs absent issuance of the injunction outweighs the potential harm to legislative defendants if the injunction is granted.”

The court invited the plaintiffs in Harper to file a motion for summary judgement in the case and noted that it would provide for an expedited schedule so that arguments could be heard prior to the close of the filing period for the 2020 primary election.

The order indicates that a disruption to the election process need not be necessary if the General Assembly acts on its own initiative “and with all due haste” to enact new congressional districts.

The panel said it does not presume to have any authority to compel lawmakers to draw new districts at such an early stage of litigation, but it noted that the General Assembly recently showed it has the capacity to enact new districts in a short amount of time “in a transparent and bipartisan manner.”

If lawmakers don’t move on their own, the court noted it can move the primary date for the congressional elections or all of the state’s 2020 primaries, including for offices other than congressional representatives.

Read both full orders below.



18 CVS 14001 10 28 19 Order (Text)



19 CVS 12667 10 28 19 Order (Text)

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Federal judge denies legislators’ attempts to move partisan gerrymandering case from state court

A federal judge ruled against North Carolina lawmakers for a second time this year on their attempts to remove partisan gerrymandering lawsuits from a state court.

Judge Louise Wood Flanagan remanded Harper v. Lewis, a challenge to the 2016 congressional map in North Carolina, to Wake County Superior Court, where a three-judge panel is expected to take up preliminary injunction arguments Thursday.

Flanagan cites several reasons for her decision, among them, the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling that partisan gerrymandering claims are out of the reach of federal courts.

“Federal jurisdiction is doubtful, and remand is necessary, because this case is not justiciable in this court,” she wrote.

The legislative defendants had alleged in their attempt to have the case removed from state court that there was a “colorable conflict” between lawmakers’ federal duties under the equal rights act and the alleged state law duties. Flanagan didn’t agree.

“This court previously expressed doubt over the correctness of this standard, in Common Cause,” she wrote in the order. “Now, after Rucho, the court further doubts whether a partisan gerrymandering claim can be entertained in federal court on the basis of a mere asserted ‘colorable conflict’ between federal law and state law. Rather, the plain language of the statute requires that defendants remove to this court ‘for refusing to do any act on the ground that it would be inconsistent with’ equal protection laws.

“In any event, it remains ‘uncertain and speculative whether the ultimate relief sought in plaintiffs’ complaint in the form of new plans comporting with the North Carolina Consitution would conflict with federal law.'”

The legislative defendants also tried to remove Common Cause v. Rucho from state court, but that effort was unsuccessful. That case, a partisan gerrymandering challenge to the 2017 legislative maps, was successful for the plaintiffs with the same three-judge panel that is presiding over this newer case, Judges Alma Hinton, Paul Ridgeway and Joseph Crosswhite.

Lawmakers have since redrawn those maps in a remedial process, but the panel is still reviewing them to decide if they correct the constitutional errors made previously. If the maps don’t pass muster, the court could ask referee Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford Law Professor, to redraw them.

The three-judge panel is set to hear arguments in Harper v. Lewis at 10 a.m. at Campbell University School of Law. That hearing is open to the public. The plaintiffs in that case have asked the court to enjoin lawmakers from using the congressional map in the 2020 election because it unfairly advantages Republicans.

Interestingly, lawmakers moved a redistricting reform hearing set for Wednesday afternoon to 9 a.m. Thursday, which means it will likely coincide with the lawsuit hearing. The meeting is open to the public and audio will be streamed online.

The agenda for the House redistricting committee meeting states that members will take up three redistricting reform bills, House Bill 69, HB 140 and HB 648. Lawmakers have been in session for 10 months and this is the first hearing set for those redistricting bills.

Below is a description of each of the bills, per the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.

House Bill 69 — Nonpartisan Redistricting Commission

  • Not a constitutional amendment, final approval remains with General Assembly
  • 11-person commission made up of voters from a pool nominated by legislative leaders — 4 Democrats, 4 Republicans and 3 not affiliated with either major party. Commissioners shall represent the state’s racial, ethnic, geographic and gender diversity.
  • The commission will hold a total of 21 public hearings both before and after the drawing of the maps, create the maps in a transparent public process and encourage citizen participation.
  • Once the commission completes and approves a redistricting plan, the plan will be sent to the NC General Assembly, which will vote on the maps without altering them. If the NC General Assembly rejects the maps, they must explain why. The Commission will redraw maps and submit them again to the NC General Assembly.

House Bill 140 — The FAIR Act

  • Constitutional amendment—requires 60% support in each house to place it on the ballot. Then, a majority of voters must approve the amendment before it is added to the NC Constitution.
  • Maps will be drawn by legislative staff, with an advisory commission, and NC General Assembly will retain authority over passage of the maps. It does not establish an independent commission.
  • The advisory commission will answer questions from the legislative staff, authorize policies for the release of information related to the redistricting plans, and organize, conduct and summarize 3 public hearings.

House Bill 648 — NC FAIR State and Congressional Districts Act

  • Not a constitutional amendment, final approval remains with General Assembly
  • Creates Independent Redistricting Commission with 16 members—11 voting members and 5 non-voting alternates. 8 members chosen by legislative leadership in both houses, these 8 members chose the final 3.
  • Commission hires a special master to draw at least two sets of maps for the North Carolina General Assembly and US Congressional districts.
  • The Commission shall determine which of the plans drawn by the special master are to be submitted to the NC General Assembly. Members of the NC General Assembly are not precluded from amending the maps or drafting their own.

Read Flanagan’s full court order from Tuesday below.



Harper v. Lewis federal order remand (Text)

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.