Courts & the Law, News

NAACP in voter ID, tax cap litigation appeal: Illegal actions have consequences

Illegal actions have consequences — that’s the message the NAACP is sending to lawmakers in its response to an appeal of a court’s decision to throw out the voter ID and tax cap constitutional amendments.

A Wake County Superior Court judge ruled in February that the unconstitutionally constituted legislature did not have the authority to alter the state constitution when it proposed those two amendments. Lawmakers appealed the decision, and the NAACP, which raised the legal challenges, has asked for the state Supreme Court to step in, but in the mean time, litigation goes through the state Court of Appeals.

The plaintiff’s argument in its appellate response is that the legislative defendants forfeited their claim to popular sovereignty when they drew illegal maps that racially segregated voters and diminished the political voice of African Americans. They are represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center.

It states that Republicans, who had a supermajority in the legislature at the time the amendments were created, knew they obtained power illegally and was warned about it by a federal court, but still proceeded.

“Nevertheless, Defendants, without regard for the law or the people they serve, attempted to rewrite our state’s most foundational document,” the court document states.

The legislative defendants wrote in its appeal that the lower court that ruled in favor of the NAACP focused more on the ills it perceived from redistricting than it did the merits of the case.

“The trial court became the first known court in the country to void amendments passed by a majority of voters on the theory that state legislators were usurpers and lacked the ability to propose amendments to the people for a popular vote,” the initial appeal states.

The defendants contend that the trial court encroached on the legislative branch and violated the separation of powers, so the Court of Appeals should overturn its decision.

The NAACP response states that the defendants “rely on inapposite case law, alarmism, and misinterpretation of state law.”

Gov. Roy Cooper filed an amicus brief in the case agreeing with the NAACP’s position that lawmakers should not have been able to propose an alteration to the state constitution. Read more

Commentary, Education, News

NC voucher program should follow Maryland’s lead, end funding to schools that discriminate

The Baltimore Sun reports this morning that a religious school, with the aid of a right-wing legal organization, is suing the state of Maryland over the decision of education officials to deny it school voucher funding because of its discriminatory policies. Oh, that North Carolina leaders had the courage to adopt and implement a similar policy.

As the Sun reports:

Maryland’s education leaders decided to deny vouchers to Bethel Christian Academy in 2018 after it read the school’s handbook, which says that it believes marriage can only be between a man and a woman and that God assigns a gender to a child at birth.

“Therefore, faculty, staff and student conduct is expected to align with this view,” the handbook states. “Faculty, staff and students are required to identify with, dress in accordance with, and use the facilities associated with their biological gender.”…

Maryland’s voucher program, begun in the 2016-2017 school year under Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, offers students a taxpayer-funded scholarship to attend a private school. Called Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students, or BOOST, the program’s $7 million budget is enough to support more than 3,000 students. The scholarships go to low-income students who want to attend a school where the tuition is less than $14,000.

After the first year of the program, the BOOST board learned that a Harford County religious school had what it called discriminatory language in its handbook and banned the use of vouchers there. It also launched a complete review of the handbooks of all 176 participating schools. The board said 22 schools had questionable language in their guides. Nine of those schools were ruled ineligible. Another 10 schools were disqualified and required to refund payments they had already received from the state. Of those 10 schools, six revised the language in their handbook and were approved to participate.

Some Christian academies said they would not accept students who were homosexual and would expel them if they exhibited “homosexual conduct.” The schools say they believe marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

After it rescinded Bethel’s approval, the BOOST board told Bethel to pay back the $106,000 in state funds it had received. In the lawsuit, Bethel asks the court to both reinstate the school in the voucher program and not require it to pay back the money.

The story goes on to explain the legal theories of the competing parties and the fact that the very existence of a voucher program remains highly controversial.

Let’s hope the defendants prevail, that the policy to deny vouchers to schools that discriminate remains in place and that North Carolina officials follow Maryland’s lead in the near future.

Courts & the Law, News

Court allows some Hofeller files to be used at gerrymandering trial, temporarily makes the rest confidential

The 35 files from deceased mapmaker Thomas Hofeller’s digital documents related to North Carolina redistricting can be used at the highly-anticipated partisan gerrymandering trial next week, according to a set of court orders released late Friday afternoon.

The rest of the 75,000-plus “Hofeller files,” however, will be designated as confidential for 60 days so the political consulting firm Hofeller co-founded can sort through them and determine which documents they can claim ownership of or some other claim of right. The firm, Geographic Strategies, had initially asked the court to mark the entirety of the Hofeller files as “highly confidential” or to destroy all the documents.

“The court is aware that many of the documents contained in the Hofeller files are public and non-privileged,” the Friday order states. “It’s objected through this order is not to shield the public documents but rather to craft a solution that respects potentially legitimate property rights of Geographic Strategies in the subset of the Hofeller files that are demonstrably proprietary.”

The order states that the plaintiffs in Common Cause v. Lewis must turn the Hofeller files over to Geographic Strategies within three business days. During the 60 days the court has designated the files as confidential, none of the parties to the gerrymandering case can disseminate any of the Hofeller files to third parties without petitioning the court for permission.

The order does not apply to the 35 documents the plaintiffs asked to use at the two-week trial, which will begin at 10 a.m. Monday at Campbell Law School. The plaintiffs also do not have to turn over the personal documents within the Hofeller files — those are confidential to everyone involved in the case.

Other courts can still exercise discretion to compel inspection of the Hofeller files, a notable stipulation in the Friday order since many of the documents likely have to do with other litigation across the country. Some of the files have already been introduced in litigation over the 2020 Census citizenship question.

While plaintiffs can’t share further information about the Hofeller files, the new court order does not appear to apply to any third parties who may have already gotten access to them. The three-judge panel in another order also denied a request from the legislative defendants in Common Cause to force the plaintiffs to turn over a list of everyone who has had access to the files.

In that same order, the court also denied the plaintiffs request to force the legislative defendants to stop purporting to designate the entirety of the Hofeller files as highly confidential and to stop demanding that they destroy all the documents.

“The Court’s primary objective at this stage in the litigation is to ensure that documents necessary for the administration of justice in this case are made available,” the order states. “The court is satisfied that such documents have been identified, that all parties have agreed that those documents are not subject to any assertions of privilege, and that the documents likely fall under the public record designation.”

In their motion allowing the 35 already identified Hofeller files to be used at the trial next week, the court said it was satisfied the plaintiffs properly authenticated the documents and that chain of custody issues were not relevant because none of the files had been altered. There could still be other types of evidentiary objections at trial, but for now, those select Hofeller files are admitted.

Finally, the court granted and denied several motions by several parties to the case regarding specific evidence and testimony that could be presented next week. Notably, it denied the plaintiffs request to preclude the legislative defendants from offering evidence or argument related to their use of information in the redistricting process to comply with the Voting Rights Act.

Read the court motions in full below:



18 CVS 14001 Order on GeoStrat Motion Re Hofeller Files (Text)



18 CVS 14001 Order on Motions in Limine Re Hofeller Files (Text)



18 CVS 14001 Order on Plts Motion for Direction (Text)



18 CVS 14001 Summary of Rulings From 7 10 2019 (002) (Text)

Commentary, News

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. The budget chess match: Cooper offers compromise; Berger, Moore offer pork to woo Dems for veto override

Gov. Roy Cooper released a proposed budget compromise Tuesday as Republican legislative leaders continued to search for the votes to overturn his veto.

The proposal offers compromises on areas of disagreement from teacher raises and State Capital and Infrastructure Fund money to tax cuts and school vouchers. But on the conflict’s central issue – the expansion of Medicaid for as many as 600,000 North Carolinians without work requirements or premiums – Cooper is holding fast.

House Speaker Tim Moore and Senator President Pro Tem Phil Berger both declined Cooper’s invitation to meet Tuesday along with Democratic leaders, but took differing stances on Medicaid. [Read more…]

Bonus read: Governor Cooper’s budget compromise is a reasonable way forward

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2. Cooper offers revised teacher pay raises, hybrid approach to funding school infrastructure needs

Senate leader slams proposed budget compromise, appears to reject further negotiation

North Carolina teachers would see an average 8.5 percent pay raise by the second year of the biennium under a compromise budget proposal offered by Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday.

Cooper’s compromise would replace the 9.1 percent average increase he proposed in his initial spending plan released in March. His offer also tops the 3.8 percent average increase proposed in the conference budget passed by both legislative chambers. [Read more…]

Bonus reads:

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3. Latest GOP trial balloons confirm Cooper has been right to keep pushing for Medicaid expansion

It’s going to happen eventually. It may not be right away and it may not look exactly like it ought to look at first, but at some point in the not-too-distant future, North Carolina is going to expand its Medicaid program.

The momentum to move forward is too strong and the arguments against doing so are just too weak. Consider the following:

  • A growing and overwhelming majority of states – including many dominated by Republicans – have already taken the step and enjoyed extremely positive results. [Read more…]

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4. North Carolina partisan gerrymandering trial could provide roadmap for other states

All eyes will be on North Carolina next week as partisan gerrymandering takes center stage, once again.

The trial in the case of  Common Cause v. Lewis – the state constitutional partisan gerrymandering challenge – will begin at 10 a.m. Monday and could take up to two weeks to conclude. It’s the last chance before the 2020 redistricting cycle that partisan considerations in the mapmaking process can be reined in.

“Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has slammed the door on federal partisan gerrymandering cases, the battleground moves to the states,” said David Daley, the author of Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count. “North Carolina will be the very first test of whether a state-by-state strategy focused on state supreme courts might help curb this scourge on our democracy.” [Read more…]

Bonus read: Author: 2021 will bring ‘unfettered festival of partisan gerrymandering’ after SCOTUS ruling

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5. Environmentalists scoff as Burr joins conservation club

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) on Wednesday joined his GOP colleagues on Capitol Hill in announcing the formation of a new conservation caucus.

The kickoff of the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus comes after President Trump gave a speech this week touting his administration’s environmental record and as Republican lawmakers appear increasingly eager to herald their green credentials.

But environmentalists are accusing Burr and others in the group of attempting to “greenwash” their records. [Read more…]

Bonus read: PW exclusive: Neither Burr nor Tillis is calling for Acosta resignation

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6. Under pressure, superintendent agrees to second enviro study at Moore County school site

More than 10 pollution sources, including two Superfund sites, are within a mile of the new Aberdeen Elementary School

Moore County Schools Superintendent Robert Grimesey has ordered a Phase II environmental assessment of the new Aberdeen Elementary School site, but insists the area is safe.

“My decision to proceed is based solely on persistent and unsubstantiated assertions by some critics that the school board and its administration have failed to ensure the groundwater and soil composition meet standards that are safe for students and staff,” Grimesey said.

Grimesey announced his decision and offered the comments during his superintendent’s report at a public school board meeting July 8. [Read more…]

Bonus reads:

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7. Listen to our latest radio interviews and commentaries with Policy Watch’s Rob Schofield


 

Click here to listen

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8. Weekly editorial cartoon:

 

News

Fayetteville State University has new interim chancellor

Dr. Peggy Valentine will be the new interim chancellor of Fayetteville State University.

Dr. Peggy Valentine will serve as the interim chancellor at Fayetteville State University.

UNC System Interim President Bill Roper announced the appointment, effective, August 7, in a prepared statement Friday.

“I am proud to announce the appointment of Dr. Valentine, someone in whom I am confident in and who has demonstrated great leadership capabilities during her tenure as a dean at Winston-Salem State,” Roper said in the prepared statement.

“While at WSSU, she has transformed the School of Health Sciences into a widely-respected and popular program, leading its continued growth and success,” Roper said. “I know she will bring her remarkable attributes and skills to this new interim role at Fayetteville State. I wish to thank her for agreeing to take on this new challenge.”

Valentine currently serves as dean of the School of Health Sciences at Winston-Salem State University, where she oversees programs in clinical laboratory science, exercise physiology, health care management, nursing, rehabilitation counseling and physical and occupational therapy. She has a doctorate in education from Virginia Tech University and a master of arts and a bachelor of science degrees from Howard University.

Valentine’s area of research specialization is homeless and minority health issues. She is the founding editor-in-chief for the Journal of Best Practices in Health Professions Diversity.

Her interest in increasing diversity in the health professions has led to her overseeing the development of early assurance agreements that guarantee admission into high-demand graduate programs for WSSU undergraduates who meet certain requirements. The school expanded its work toward eliminating health disparities among the residents of Winston-Salem under her leadership.

“I am honored to be asked to serve in this role at Fayetteville State University,” Dr. Valentine said in a prepared statement. “I look forward to working with the Board of Trustees, administration, and faculty to move FSU forward during this time of transition. FSU has a proud tradition of excellence and is one of the most diverse universities in the country. With nationally-ranked academic programs, growing research capacity, and strong military partnerships, FSU is a major economic engine for the entire Fayetteville and Cumberland County region.”