Courts & the Law, News

NC Supreme Court says no to legislative map review; lawmakers enact new Congressional map

Lawmakers enacted a new Congressional map Friday for the 2020 elections. It will likely be subject to court review as part of ongoing litigation.

The North Carolina Supreme Court declined to take up an appeal of several districts in a state legislative map that was redrawn after a court found it had been initially gerrymandered for partisan gain.

The plaintiffs in Common Cause v. Lewis asked the state’s high court to review their appeal ahead of the Court of Appeals in an effort to expedite matters ahead of the Dec. 2 candidate filing deadline. They objected specifically to five county groupings in the House map after the lower court approved it.

The order from the Supreme Court did not explain why the justices declined to take up the appeal, and it denied another motion from the legislative defendants to recuse Justice Anita Earls as moot.

The plaintiffs can still appeal the maps to the state Court of Appeals.

In the meantime, legislators have enacted a different set of maps stemming from a separate partisan gerrymandering case, Harper v. Lewis, which challenges the 2016 Congressional districts.

The House passed the map drawn mostly by Sen. Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) Thursday and the Senate passed it Friday. Democrats’ claim the map is still gerrymandered, and the public raised concerns about the redistricting process.

The map will likely be subject to court review as part of the ongoing Harper litigation.


Environment

Demonstrators to protest liquefied natural gas plant near Lumbee tribal lands

Site of the liquified natural gas facility in Robeson County (Map: Piedmont Natural Gas)

Hundreds of people on Saturday are expected to protest a Liquefied Natural Gas storage and processing facility in Robeson County, where several major natural gas projects are either under way or proposed.

The billion cubic foot LNG facility, a $250 million project of Piedmont Natural Gas, is between Red Springs — Lumbee tribal land — and Maxton, a predominantly Black community.

In addition to the LNG plant, other natural gas infrastructure in Robeson County proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Metering and Regulating Station near Prospect, a potential pipeline from Prospect to South Carolina, and a possible second compressor station to pressurize the gas southward.

At least one farm and other properties could be taken under eminent domain to construct a 4-mile pipeline from an existing Duke Energy/Piedmont Gas pipeline to the LNG site on Rev. Bill Road.

Statewide Action to Stop the LNG Plant
Saturday, Nov. 16 10am-4pm
Oxendine Elementary School 5599 Oxendine School Road, Maxton  

As part of the March for Justice, protesters can walk along the 4.5- mile route to the LNG plant; transportation will be provided to pick up marchers during the walk. The Celebration of Our Sacred Lands and Waters will be held at Oxendine Elementary School, organizers announced, “to commemorate the gifts of healthy land, water, and air that are gifts of the Creator that we are called to honor and protect, not aimlessly harm and pollute.”

A bus will take demonstrators from Durham on Saturday morning. Sign up online.

News

At congressional hearing, Virginia Foxx praises rise in state-level abortion restrictions

Rep. Virginia Foxx

WASHINGTON — Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill Thursday assailed a sharp rise in state-level efforts to restrict access to abortion and other reproductive health care services.

“Across the country, extreme forces in some state governments are taking draconian steps to violate women’s rights,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the acting chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said at a hearing. These restrictions deny “basic services that women have a right to receive no matter where they live.”

Over the past decade, states have enacted nearly 500 abortion restrictions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a think thank in Washington, D.C. That’s about 40 percent of all restrictions enacted since the U.S. Supreme Court legalize abortion nearly a half century ago. The wave of state laws has contributed to a significant drop in the number of clinics offering abortion services.

A veteran North Carolina Republican lawmaker strongly objected to her colleagues’ assertion that the restrictions harm women.

“States are grappling with issues of how to defend and preserve life and support high standards for women’s health care. As states continue to explore ways to do so in recent years, we are now at a reflection point,” said North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx, a high-ranking Republican on the committee.

“I hardly find that anyone is losing access to anything, anyone save the defenseless,” she said. “The pendulum in the states is not one that is swinging against women, not in the slightest.”

The hearing focused on Missouri, one of six states in the country with only one clinic providing abortion services. Some 30 years ago, the state was home to nearly 30 such clinics, said Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Missouri’s Planned Parenthood clinic.

The restrictions are the result of a political “abuse of power” to restrict access to the procedure, McNicholas said.

Missouri is at risk of becoming the first in the country without a clinic that provides abortion services since the constitutional right to

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.)

abortion was recognized in Roe v. Wade.

The state’s restrictions came under scrutiny at the hearing, including its requirement that patients undergo pelvic examinations before receiving an abortion.

The Missouri health department’s practice of tracking some women’s menstrual cycles, which the state’s top health official admitted to last month, also drew attention during the hearing. The department’s director testified that the department maintained a spreadsheet documenting the dates of clinic patients’ periods, according to a report in the Kansas City Star.

“I cannot begin to describe my disgust at these violations of privacy and breaches of trust by government officials,” Maloney said, adding that they’re not taking place in isolation. Maloney was born in North Carolina and is a graduate of Greensboro College.

‘Hostility’ to reproductive rights

More than half of states — including North Carolina — have shown “hostility” to reproductive rights, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

North Carolina has enacted numerous restrictions on the procedure, such as requiring patients to receive anti-abortion counseling, undergo an ultrasound before obtaining the procedure and wait 72 hours before the procedure is performed. Health insurance plans offered to public employees and on the state’s health exchange under the Affordable Care Act can only cover abortion in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest, according to the institute. Read more

News

Fetzer and ECU controversy deepens as UNC Board of Governors meets

As UNC Board of Governors leadership criticized member Tom Fetzer for running a secretive private investigation into the former interim chancellor of East Carolina University on Thursday, there were further revelations about Fetzer’s possible motives.

The UNC System released further documents related to the ECU controversy Thursday, including an e-mail from Fetzer that went to UNC System President Bill Roper, former board chairman Harry Smith and board member Michael Williford.

UNC Board of Governors member Tom Fetzer and attorney Peter Romary.

In the e-mail, sent between the forced resignation of former ECU chancellor Cecil Staton and the naming of Dan Gerlach as interim Chancellor, Fetzer outlined an extensive plan he called “Operation Rescue ECU” that went from the installation of an interim chancellor to the plans for the school’s future in the next few years.

Fetzer offered specific strategic points on what the school should do going forward, from fiscal and enrollment plans to a new marketing campaign he wanted to call “ECU Wants You.”

Fetzer went so far as to dictate a draft of the interim chancellor’s first public remarks which included describing Staton’s leadership as “two years of controversy and chaos” which now needs to be replaced with “calm and stability.”

Fetzer also recommended waiting until after spring graduation, when students left campus, to name a new chancellor to avoid “sympathy for Staton” — who was forced to resign without any public reason back in March.

On Thursday several board members suggested the letter shows Fetzer always harbored an interest in being chosen as the next permanent chancellor at ECU. Then Gerlach, the interim chancellor who was well liked among students, faculty and trustees, announced he would be a candidate for the position.

That, several board members and ECU Board of Trustees members told Policy Watch this week, is why Fetzer seized on the controversy surrounding Gerlach’s drinking with students and allegedly driving home intoxicated. Fetzer became convinced he had to intervene in the official UNC investigation, one ECU trustee said, to be sure damaging information on Gerlach was not only uncovered by the investigation and brought to the board, but was quickly made public to quell sympathy and support for the man who might have been his rival in the chancellor search. Fetzer employed Greenville attorney Peter Romary in an effort to secure damaging security camera video of Gerlach which was ultimately leaked to the media.

Fetzer, who did not attend Thursday’s board committee meetings at Elizabeth City State University, has not responded to Policy Watch requests on the Gerlach matter. He has declined to comment to other news outlets this week.

As Policy Watch has reported, this is not the first time Fetzer operated outside the system to impact a chancellor search.

Last year Fetzer and Romary were also involved in the scuttled search for a new chancellor at Western Carolina University. Fetzer gave confidential candidate information to Romary, who suggested the final candidate had lied on their application. Other members of the board said that wasn’t true. The candidate ultimately withdrew their application amid concerns about confidentiality. Fetzer’s fellow board members — and then-UNC President Margaret Spellings — criticized Fetzer for stepping outside of the board’s process and compromising the confidentiality of the selection process.

Fetzer later admitted he had spoken to Spellings about becoming interim chancellor at Western Carolina but was denied when she said she’d chosen someone else.

In September Fetzer told Policy Watch he was not interested in any open leadership position in the UNC system, from one of the chancellorships to the UNC System presidency.

“Lord no,” Fetzer told Policy Watch at that time.

Fetzer said he has young children and wouldn’t want to put his family through the current social media environment in either a bid for that sort of leadership position or a run for office.

Under rules approved by the board, any Board of Governors member who did want to be considered in a search would need to resign their board position first.

 

News

Virginia’s blue wave revives hope for the ERA in Washington

Photo: Ned Oliver of the Virginia Mercury

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House advanced a resolution on Wednesday that aims to ease the ratification of a constitutional amendment that would ensure equality for U.S. citizens under the law, regardless of their sex.

The Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1923 and was passed overwhelmingly by the House and Senate in the 1970s, but has failed to win approval by the 38 states needed for ratification. In 2017, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the ERA and Illinois last year became the 37th state to do so.

The 13 states that haven’t ratified the ERA are: Arizona, Utah, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Virginia. Click here for more state information.

Now, backers of the amendment are pinning their hopes on Virginia after this month’s elections handed Democrats control of both houses of the Virginia General Assembly. The state is widely expected to ratify the ERA after Democrats assume power in January.

But there are some thorny legal issues that could complicate the process and are almost certain to land the matter in the courts if Virginia or another state does become the 38th state to ratify the ERA.

One prominent issue: a congressional deadline imposed when Congress passed the ERA. Lawmakers initially set a March 1979 ratification deadline for states, which was later extended to June 1982. But the amendment still hadn’t gotten the backing of 38 states when that deadline expired.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee attempted to nullify that deadline entirely.

The panel voted 21-11 along party lines to approve a resolution from Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) that would remove the deadline initially laid out in 1972. The resolution, which now heads to the full House for a vote, has the backing of 217 co-sponsors, including two Republicans, Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Tom Reed of New York.

All three North Carolina Democratic members — Alma Adams, G.K. Butterfield and David Price  are among the co-sponsors.

This past August, an editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer echoed the arguments of advocates at North Carolina NOW and the ERA-NC Alliance that North Carolina should finally ratify the amendment. The editorial concluded:

“Women need the power of a constitutional amendment to ensure their protection from discrimination in the form of lower wages and harassment. Enshrining the equal rights of women in the Constitution should not be difficult. That it has proven so reveals the persistence of bias against women and demonstrates the need for the amendment.

North Carolina should make this long-denied right an enduring one.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has introduced a Senate version of the resolution to remove the ERA deadline. His effort has the backing of Sens. Lisa Murkowsi (R-Alaska), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine). But it’s unclear whether the effort will gain traction in the GOP-controlled Senate.

House Democrats hailed Wednesday’s vote as a historic event, lamenting the fact that the ERA hasn’t yet been added to the Constitution.  Read more