Commentary, Defending Democracy

Come on, Senator Tillis, do the right thing on this one

The Right’s ongoing judicial coup d’é·tat will sink to a remarkable low today when the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee — including, by all indications, one of its most loyal champions of reaction, Senator Thom Tillis — is expected to advance three extreme Trump nominees to serve lifetime appointments as federal judges. And while that may sound like just a normal day in Washington during these dark times, there is another aspect to the story that makes it even more outrageous and maddening: the votes will take place on the anniversary of the historic Supreme Court school desegregation ruling in the case of Brown v. Board of Education and — get this — the would-be judges in question refuse to endorse the landmark decision.

This is from a post yesterday from national civil rights leader Vanita Gupta:

“In response to a straightforward question from Sen. Richard Blumenthal last month, Louisiana district court nominee Wendy Vitter refused to say whether the Supreme Court correctly decided Brown v. Board of Education. It was a stunning moment caught on video.

Given that millions of people watched this video, one would imagine the coaching sessions for Trump’s nominees would have prepared them for the question to be asked again, but just two weeks later, Trump’s Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals nominee, Andrew Oldham, joined four White male district court nominees, including Eastern District of Texas nominee Michael Truncale, in also refusing to say whether Brown v. Board was correctly decided.

It wasn’t a trick question. Current Supreme Court justices—including Justices Thomas and Gorsuch—supported Brown at their nominations hearings.

Considering that the Senate Judiciary Committee stands poised to vote on their nominations this Thursday—64 years following the groundbreaking and unanimous Brown decision—their refusal to agree with this landmark ruling should serve as a wake-up call for what President Trump is trying to do to our independent courts.”

Gupta concludes this way:

“Beyond their disqualifying refusal to answer this question, these nominees have records that are deeply concerning to the civil and human rights community. In addition to a history of hostility to immigrant rights, Vitter has embraced fringe and discredited views about contraception?—?views that she failed to disclose to the Senate. Thirty-nine-year-old Oldham has worked to restrict voting rights, immigrant rights and women’s health—as well as seeking to undermine environmental protection and gun safety. He has even questioned the very existence of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Michael Truncale has echoed Trump’s fear-mongering about the Mexican border and has called for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education.

By voting to advance Vitter, Oldham, and Truncale to the Senate floor on Thursday, senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee will be affirming that these nominees’ extreme views are now acceptable, that people in America do not deserve fair-minded jurists on the federal bench, and that Brown v. Board of Education was not correctly decided. All committee members must stand on the side of justice and protect our federal courts by voting to reject these three extreme judicial nominees.”

Come on Senator Tillis, do the right thing.

Commentary, Defending Democracy

The warm-up for November has arrived

Granted, there will be a lot more on the line six months from now when the first fully-fledged opportunity to render a verdict on Trumpism arrives, but today’s primary election is extremely important as well.

As this morning’s Wilmington Star News explains in its lead editorial:

“This is your time to govern. On Election Day, the PEOPLE are in session

Are citizens going to put a ballot where their mouth is?

Political passions have been running high since Donald Trump’s victory. Marchers have hit the streets and social media is in maximum overdrive on all sides. Not a day goes by that we don’t receive a letter and/or a swarm of Buzzes with passionate political pleas.

But talk is cheap — political energy is for naught unless people vote. And May 8 is a big test, as North Carolina voters choose candidates for Nov. 6, the first post-Trump-win general election. While Trump’s name is not on the ballot, his presidency looms large over today’s primary — perhaps not on specific issues, but certainly on general political direction and party momentum.

Primaries, of course, are intraparty affairs — there are no clashes among D’s, R’s and L’s today, but turnout and which candidates get their party’s backing should provide some insight on what to expect this fall….

With political passions seemingly high on all sides, we hope to see a better-than-usual turnout. Granted, we’ll take greater civic engagement any way we can get it, but voter turnout shouldn’t have to rely on passions running high. We should stay informed about our government and vote regularly, not because we are angry or suddenly motivated by a big issue, but because it’s our primary responsibility as citizens in a representative democracy.

So give someone a ride to the polls; take your children or grandchildren (school is out for many) and let them see democracy in action; vote in honor or in memory of a veteran, perhaps one who died so you could exercise this right.

Whatever it takes, get out today and perform your most important civic responsibility. If you voted early, thank you.

Remember, this is your time to govern. On Election Day, the PEOPLE are in session, and there is work to be done. How can we legitimately criticize our leaders for not fulfilling their governing duties if we do not fulfill our own?

Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. You can find your polling place and a sample ballot at vt.ncsbe.gov/RegLkup

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy

Leading voices for civil rights to gather on May 15 in Durham for conference on NC’s broken criminal justice system

North Carolinians who care about civil rights and the desperate need to improve our flawed criminal justice system will not want to miss this event:

“Criminal Justice Debt: Punishing the Poor in North Carolina”

May 15, 9:30-2:30

Great Hall, NC Central University School of Law
640 Nelson St., Durham

Defendants in criminal cases are frequently caught in a web of fines and fees imposed at all stages of the criminal justice process. For poor defendants, these costs are often unpayable. Set up to fail and sanctioned with additional fees, extended probation, license revocation and–in violation of constitutional law–jail, individual defendants, and their families and communities, are driven deeper into crisis, even as they funnel millions of dollars into state coffers.

Please join us for this important discussion on ways to reform the criminal justice debt trap.

Cosponsored by ACLU of North Carolina, Forward Justice, North Carolina Advocates for Justice, North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers, North Carolina Central University School of Law, North Carolina Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Criminal Justice System, North Carolina Justice Center, North Carolina Poverty Research Fund, North Carolina Public Defender Committee on Racial Equity, North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the UNC Center for Civil Rights.

The Conference is free and open to the public though registration is required.

Agenda and registration link: https://goo.gl/forms/XPcDWYU5riT24bPF3

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

McCrory Legal Defense Fund pays $25,000 to lawyers defending defamation suit

The McCrory Legal Defense Fund has paid at least $25,000 in attorneys fees thus far to a law firm defending a defamation suit involving voters who were falsely accused of election fraud.

The total was reported as an operating expense to the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement in a recent political committee disclosure report. It was paid on Jan. 10 to Raleigh law firm Blanchard, Miller, Lewis & Isley, according to the report.

Philip Isley represents the McCrory Legal Defense Fund in a class-action lawsuit that was filed after the last gubernatorial election.

Fifty-three election protests claiming voter fraud were filed across the state in the wake of that election — most, if not all, by Republicans defending former Gov. Pat McCrory after he refused to concede the race to current Gov. Roy Cooper. The Republican-controlled State Board of Elections ultimately dismissed all the protests.

It was revealed after some of the protests were challenged that those Republicans were supplied information to file the protests by attorneys with the McCrory Legal Defense Fund, which had hired the Holtzman Vogel law firm in Virginia. Both the Defense Fund and the Vogel law firm are accused of conspiring to undermine the results of the election.

Isley was in court in April to try to have the lawsuit — which was filed by four retiree voters, three from Guilford County and one from Brunswick — dismissed.

The Defense Fund was established by the Pat McCrory Committee while the former Governor was still fighting his loss. North Carolinians were solicited for donations to help make sure all votes were counted in the election. The website is still up and appears to still take donations.

The Defense Fund also reported paying $2,400 in software fees to Aristotle, Inc., a company located in Washington D.C. that provides political technology and solutions to grassroots organizations, public affairs councils (PACs) and political campaigns in the United States and abroad.

Other expenses reported include more than $11,000 paid in taxes to the IRS and the North Carolina Department of Revenue. The group has $69,552.28 “cash on hand” for this reporting period and $83,732.44 total this election.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Guest columnist urges NC to stand with Forsyth judges in opposing judicial reform

A guest columnist in the Winston-Salem Journal last week encouraged North Carolina voters and their elected officials to stand together in opposing legislative attacks.

Linda Sutton was inspired by seeing five Forsyth County judges speak earlier this month at a “Fair Courts, Fair Votes” town hall in Winston-Salem.

The judges’ message was clear: our justice system exists so that everyone can rely on fair treatment from independent courts, but many in the legal community feel like that system is under attack.

[District Court] Judge [Gordon] Miller, a Republican and self-professed NRA member, told the packed room, “I’ve been practicing law for over 40 years … I don’t sit on the bench as a member of the NRA or a Republican, I sit there as a District Court judge … I disagree with the bills that have been proposed and I think they’re horrible ideas.”

Over the last few years, politicians in Raleigh have pushed an array of proposals to strip our courts of their independence by radically altering the way North Carolina chooses judges. They’ve made our judicial elections partisan, eliminated the 2018 judicial primary and floated plans to gerrymander the voting districts for our courts or eliminate judicial elections altogether.

Sutton said she was proud of the judges for standing together and speaking out, and said it was time for elected officials to follow their lead by passing a resolution to oppose legislative judicial attacks.

Several cities and counties across the state, including in conservative, rural areas, have passed resolutions opposing judicial reform. You can read more about that here and here.

Sutton wrote that passing such a resolution could “send a strong message to politicians in Raleigh that, like one Beaufort County commissioner put it, ‘you don’t know our county the way we do.'” She called on commissioners to act now. Read the full column here.

I’m calling on Forsyth County commissioners to act now. And I’m asking my fellow Forsyth County residents to ask them to do the same (we’ve made it easy to contact our commissioners about this issue at demnc.co/fairforsyth).

With only a few weeks until the N.C. legislature reconvenes to take up these changes, it’s time for Forsyth County to do what it can to fight back. This week our judges stood up for us. It’s time we did the same for them and the people that they serve.