Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

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

David Daley

North Carolina courts could be on the cusp of changing the rules when it comes to partisan redistricting, but other states might not be so inclined following the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

David Daley, the author of Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count, spoke with Policy Watch on Wednesday about the future of democracy in America. He was not hopeful.

“I think what you’re going to see in 2021 is an absolute unfettered festival of partisan gerrymandering, the likes of which we’ve never seen before because the Supreme Court has essentially given a green light by saying you don’t have to worry,” he said.

The high court ruled at the end of June that partisan gerrymandering challenges were out of the reach of federal courts. It pointed to the states to decide how to control redistricting, which will likely lead to a patchwork of different laws across the country.

Daley has spent significant time researching and writing about gerrymandering. His book, Ratf**ked, examines the rise of the Republican Party through strategic gerrymandering efforts and explores how it’s affected democracy in America.

He said the Supreme Court ruling means that Republican gerrymanders from 2011 will continue to provide red seawalls that likely will continue to exist for another decade. It might change if Democrats can find a way to win back one of the chambers in areas like Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Florida, but they haven’t been able to do that over the past decade.

In states where one party controls the redistricting process, Daley speculated that voters will witness them “go all out to maximize the maps to their advantage” and they’ll have terabytes of voter data and the most sophisticated mapping software ever used to slice America up even more than they already have.

He said that Republicans have taken redistricting much more seriously than Democrats over the past 40 years. While Democrats spent the past decade trying to undo the red wave, Republicans were thinking about the next redistricting cycle and how the citizenship Census question could help the mapmaking process.

“It’s strategists like Tom Hofeller who were always able to peer around the corner and see what’s better next time, while Democrats seem to focus on catching up to the last fight,” he said. “That’s galaxy brain of redistricting.”

Hofeller died last year, but he was a renowned GOP mapmaker, including in North Carolina. His digital files are at the center of a state court battle after his daughter gave them to the plaintiffs in Common Cause v. Lewis following his death.

The files already unveiled his involvement in the formation of the citizenship question on the 2020 Census — which is still an ongoing legal fight — but court watchers have said those documents could contain a lot of more information about the inner workings of the Republican Party’s redistricting strategies.

Regardless of if the documents will eventually come to light, Daley said he expects redistricting fights to look a lot different in the future after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

He’s optimistic about North Carolina’s opportunity, though, to put limits on partisan gerrymandering. The trial in Common Cause v. Lewis will begin at 10 a.m. Monday. It’s expected the whole nation will be watching, but especially those from North Carolina who have been fighting for fair maps for years.

Tomas Lopez, Executive Director of Democracy NC, said his group will be watching and he’s hopeful the state courts recognize the claims before them.

“All of us who support fair maps are going to keep fighting for them, and that effort includes legislative solutions like Senate Bill 673’s Gold Standard Citizens Redistricting Commission,” he said. “As we wait for our state courts to have their say, this legislative proposal would finally and formally take the power to draw maps away from lawmakers, remove the incentive to rig maps regardless of who’s in power, and elevate citizen input over partisanship. For North Carolinians, these and other state-level redistricting reforms and anti-gerrymandering rulings can’t come quickly enough.”

SB 673 is one of a half a dozen bills pending at the legislature this session — none have been scheduled for a hearing.

News

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

Sec. of Labor Alexander Acosta

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers across Capitol Hill are stepping up calls for the immediate resignation of embattled Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta over his role in prosecuting a sexual abuse scandal more than a decade ago.

North Carolina Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis aren’t among them.

Acosta, a former federal prosecutor, is facing mounting pressure to step down this week after wealthy hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein was arrested on Saturday and charged with sex trafficking amid accusations that he repeatedly abused underage girls. The accusations were detailed at length in an investigative series published last year by the Miami Herald.

As a U.S. attorney in Miami, Acosta signed off in 2007 on what critics label a sweetheart deal. The agreement allowed Epstein to avoid federal prosecution and to serve 13 months in jail rather than potentially facing life in prison.

Asked whether Acosta ought to resign in light of his role in the plea deal, Burr said Wednesday, “That’s up to the administration.”

Tillis said in a brief interview, “I haven’t read the specifics. All I’ve seen is what’s reported, so I don’t know what the circumstances were of the agreement.”

Asked about Epstein, Tillis said, “He needs to go to jail for the rest of his life and I think that he will.”

Richard Burr

Thom Tillis

Both Burr and Tillis voted to confirm Acosta as President Trump’s labor secretary in 2017.

Other lawmakers — including top Democrats in both chambers of Congress — have issued pointed calls for Acosta’s resignation.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Acosta chose to let a “serial sex trafficker of children” off easy. “This is not acceptable,” Schumer added on the Senate floor. “We cannot have as one of the leading appointed officials in America someone who has done this, plain and simple.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote on Twitter that Acosta “must step down. As US Attorney, he engaged in an unconscionable agreement [with] Jeffrey Epstein kept secret from courageous, young victims preventing them from seeking justice.”

North Carolina Rep. Alma Adams (D-12th) also called for his resignation in a statement issued Wednesday: Read more

News

New interim chancellor appointed at UNC School of the Arts

Brian Cole will serve as interim chancellor of the UNC School of the Arts, the UNC system announced Wednesday.

UNC System Interim President Bill Roper announced Cole’s appointment, which will be effective August 1.

Brian Cole will serve as interim chancellor of the UNC School of the Arts.

“Brian Cole’s impressive international background in the arts and his leadership experience made him the ideal candidate to step in and lead UNCSA,” Roper said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “Throughout this selection process, I found Brian’s reputation and professionalism to be of the highest caliber, and many stakeholders at UNCSA have reached out to offer enthusiastic support for this appointment. Brian is an innovator, collaborator and deep thinker, and I have the utmost confidence that he will succeed in this new interim position.”

Cole, who has served as UNCSA’s Dean of the School fo Music since 2016, will replace Chancellor Lindsay Bierman. Last month Roper announced Bierman will leave his position to become the new chief executive officer of UNC-TV Public Media North Carolina.

Cole is a doctoral candidate in Orchestral Conducting at the University of Cincinnati. He received his Master of Music in Instrumental Conducting from the University of Illinois and his Bachelor of Music in Bassoon Performance from Louisiana State University. He has led orchestras and operas throughout the United States, Europe, South America and in the Caribbean. He served seven years as associate dean of Academic Affairs at the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music and four years as the founding dean of Academic Affairs at Berklee College of Music’s campus in Valencia, Spain.

“I’m honored to be stepping into the role of interim chancellor at UNCSA, an institution I so strongly believe in,” Cole said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “In my position as dean of the School of Music since 2016, I have been continuously inspired by the level of talent and dedication of the students, alumni, faculty and staff throughout this unique institution, and by the collaborative and creative ethos that permeates the school.”

News

Second Chance Act clears House committee with support from unprecedented left-right coalition

Legislation supported by an unlikely alliance of progressive and conservative advocates moved one step closer to final passage this morning. The Second Chance Act, a bipartisan “clean slate” bill that would automatically expunge criminal charges that are dismissed or disposed “not guilty” after July 1, 2020, and allow individuals to petition for expungement of all nonviolent misdemeanor convictions after seven years of good behavior, won unanimous approval from the House Judiciary Committee. The measure, which passed the Senate unanimously in May, will now move on to the House Rules Committee for final review before heading to the House floor.

Today’s committee hearing on the bill highlighted what may well be an unprecedented coalition in recent years at the General Assembly. Supporters of the bill include such arch-conservative groups as Americans for Prosperity, ALEC Action, the NC Chamber and Koch Industries (which provided testimony at today’s hearing) as well as progressive groups like the North Carolina NAACP, the ACLU of North Carolina and the NC Justice Center (Policy Watch’s parent organization). The bill also won support from the state Conference of District Attorneys, which also voiced its support this morning.

While some committee members expressed concerns at today’s hearing about potential logistical demands that large numbers of expungement actions could place on clerks of court and other justice system officials, no one spoke against the objectives of the bill, which stands in marked, even stunning, contrast to the rhetoric of past years in which lawmakers of both political parties frequently competed to demonstrate who could be the “toughest on crime.”

The following description of the bill is from a fact sheet distributed by bill supporters:

HOW THE SECOND CHANCE ACT/SB 562 PROVIDES CLEAN SLATE RELIEF

  • AUTOMATIC RELIEF. A misdemeanor or felony charge that is dismissed or disposed “not guilty” on or after July 1, 2020, will be automatically expunged. (Exception: a felony charge that is dismissed pursuant to a plea agreement that results in any conviction) Read more
News

Study: Reported hate crimes up 64 percent in NC

A new Safe Home study based on FBI hate crime data shows reported hate crimes in North Carolina rose 64 percent from 2013-2017.

That’s significantly more than the national rise of 22 percent.

According to the data, racism accounted for 6 percent of all single-bias offenses, religion for 21 percent and sexual orientation 16 percent.

Black people were the most targeted racial group at 50 percent of all race related crimes.

Of religion related crimes, Jewish people were the most targeted at 58 percent.  Muslims were the next highest category with 19 percent.

 


Read the full study — and information about methodology — here.