Ohio GOP legislators hire Raleigh lawyers who defended NC’s racial gerrymanders

Thomas Farr during a hearing on Capitol Hill when he was nominated by Donald Trump for U.S. District Court. His nomination did not go through. Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.

Defending themselves against accusations of gerrymandering, the Ohio House speaker and Senate president hired a team of lawyers with a history defending North Carolina against what a federal court called one of the “largest racial gerrymanders ever encountered.”

A spate of special interest and voter advocacy groups have filed four lawsuits alleging that Ohio officials produced maps that segment voters to give Republicans an unfair partisan advantage and cement in a veto-proof majority. House Speaker Bob Cupp and Senate President Matt Huffman, both Republicans from Lima, opted against retaining counsel through the attorney general and hired their attorneys from the Nelson Mullins law offices in North Carolina.

Two lawyers they chose, Thomas Farr and Phillip Strach, are well-known in legal circles for defending North Carolina’s 2011 redistricting proposal and the state’s sweeping voter restriction law passed in 2013. After years of litigation, both were overturned by the courts, which found they were designed to dilute and disenfranchise Black voting power.

“It’s not a mistake. I’m sure they looked at their resumes and said, ‘Wow, we need them,’” said Bob Hall, former director of voter rights advocacy group Democracy North Carolina, of the hiring. “They’re hard-nosed, win by whatever it takes for their Republican clients.”

After hearing arguments on the North Carolina redistricting plan drawn and enacted in 2011, a three-judge federal court panel in 2017 stated the maps were “among the largest racial gerrymanders ever encountered by a federal court” that amount to a “widespread, serious, and longstanding” constitutional violation. In a similar lawsuit regarding the composition of two majority-Black congressional districts, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the maps, deeming them unlawful racial gerrymanders.

Nelson Mullins was first hired as “special counsel” Aug. 17 to “provide the Ohio General Assembly with redistricting advice,” according to a letter sent to Strach from the Attorney General’s Office, obtained in a public records request. Roughly one week later, the Ohio Redistricting Commission held its first public hearing. Republicans unveiled their first redistricting proposal Sept. 9. The North Carolina lawyers are representing the Ohio lawmakers in four lawsuits filed to date. Lawmakers have not appointed counsel in the fifth, filed last week.

Both Farr and Strach also defended North Carolina against a challenge to a 2013 North Carolina law that required voters to present state-issued identification at the polls, limited early voting, rolled back “souls to the polls” Sunday voting, ended same-day voter registration and more. A panel on the 4th Circuit of Appeals overturned the law on constitutional grounds. The judges wrote that the law targeted Black voters “with almost surgical precision” and purports to solve voter fraud and other “problems that did not exist.” The U.S. Supreme Court declined to resurrect the law on an appeal.

A third lawyer representing Cupp and Huffman, John Branch, reportedly represented Republican Mark Harris in a state investigation after Harris’ campaign operative was criminally accused and later convicted of ballot fraud in a 2018 North Carolina congressional election.

Spokesmen for Cupp and Huffman did not respond to inquiries about the North Carolina lawyers’ role advising lawmakers on the maps or why or how they selected counsel. Strach did not respond to an email or voicemail. Farr declined to comment. Read more

State lawmaker: Jim Crow has no place in North Carolina’s constitution

Image: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

NC must remove stain of white supremacy from its governing document

The North Carolina constitution contains an alarming provision from a dark period in our history: a literacy test requirement to keep Black voters from the ballot box.

I am determined to finally repeal it.

In 1899, the North Carolina legislature amended the state constitution with measures to steal and suppress Black political power. The literacy test, one of many tactics, required every person of color who wanted to exercise their freedom to vote to be able to read and write any section of the constitution in English. A “grandfather clause” protected white voters by stating that anyone who had been eligible to vote (or had an eligible ancestor) under 1867 state law was exempted from this test.

Politicians added the literacy test to our state constitution in the immediate aftermath of the 1898 Wilmington massacre, where white supremacists overthrew Black elected officials and murdered hundreds of Black North Carolinians. Lawmakers of the era were determined to preserve white political, social, and economic dominance in North Carolina. Their fingerprints are still on our constitution.

The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed literacy tests and made North Carolina’s law unenforceable, but we have never managed to remove this stain from our core governing document. In 1970, North Carolinians voted against removing the literacy test from the state Constitution. In 2013 and 2019, bills to allow voters to vote for a literacy test repeal gained traction in the legislature but never passed.

We are reigniting this effort in the North Carolina General Assembly. Change is long overdue.

The General Assembly must give North Carolina voters another chance to repeal the literacy test at the ballot box. My bipartisan bill, House Bill 337, would ask voters whether to repeal the literacy test section of the Constitution on the November 2022 ballot. The bill has overwhelming support from lawmakers of both parties and must remain a top priority this legislative session. It is an insult to Black, brown, and Indigenous North Carolinians to maintain this provision and to defer the matter year after year.

North Carolina is one of few states with a literacy test still enshrined in state law, along with Delaware, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Wyoming. Alabama lawmakers are actively reviewing and redrafting their 1901 Constitution – written with the express intent to establish a white supremacist state – including removing a poll tax provision. As our region and nation grapple with past and present racism in our communities and institutions, North Carolina must not fail to act. We must join our neighbors and signal our commitment to democracy, civil rights, and the freedom to vote for all North Carolinians – no matter what we look like or who we vote for.

In the last year, North Carolina communities took action to remove at least twenty-four Confederate monuments throughout the state, and countless politicians and Fortune 500 companies declared their commitment to protecting Black lives. We should reinforce that commitment by removing the literacy test from the state Constitution. We have had decades to right this wrong. Now is the time.

Representative Terry Brown is the State Representative for House District 92 in Mecklenburg County.

Butterfield calls out gerrymandered maps, formally announces his retirement (w/ video)

North Carolina Congressman G.K. Butterfield (NC-01) formally announced on Thursday that he will not seek re-election in 2022.

The Wilson Democrat, who has represented the first congressional district for nearly 18 years, blamed the latest round of redistricting by legislative Republicans in Raleigh.

“The map that was recently enacted by the legislature is a partisan map,” said Butterfield in a video statement. “It is racially gerrymandered. It will disadvantage African American communities all across the first congressional district.”

Butterfield, 74, said he is terribly disappointed by the Republican legislature for putting party politics ahead of the interest of North Carolinians.

“It is time for me to retire and pass the torch to someone who shares the values of the district.”

Butterfield, the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he remains hopeful that the courts will overturn the newly enacted congressional maps.

Rep. David Price (NC-04), dean of the state’s congressional delegation, was quick to praise Butterfield’s service.

“I receive news of his retirement with mixed emotions, but with wholehearted respect and gratitude for his years of distinguished service on the bench and, for the last sixteen years, as a colleague in the U.S. House of Representatives. G. K. is a visionary leader, a master of the art of politics, and a valued friend.”

Price announced his own plans for retirement in October.

Congresswoman Deborah Ross (NC-02) said Butterfield’s leadership has guided her own public service.

“Starting as a young man organizing voter registration marches in North Carolina, Congressman Butterfield has always been a bold champion for voting rights and civil rights,” Ross said. “At this critical moment for our democracy, our state and our nation will miss his powerful moral leadership.”

Click below to watch Congressman Butterfield’s retirement announcement.

Rev. Barber leads day of action in DC for voting rights protections, promised reforms

Bishop William J. Barber II in the crowd for voting rights rally on Nov. 17, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (photo by LaMonique Hamilton)

Bishop William J. Barber II in the crowd for voting rights rally on Nov. 17, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (photo by LaMonique Hamilton)

‘The right time to do right is right now!’

Hundreds of people marched in Washington on Wednesday, singing songs of struggle and calling for the passage of a voting rights bill by the end of the year. Rev. William Barber II marched alongside other faith leaders, poor and working class Americans and allied elected officials, filling the streets around the White House and demanding an end to voter suppression efforts they see gathering steam around the country.

Numerous organizations joined the Poor People’s Campaign including the League of Women Voters, People for the American Way, Declaration for American Democracy, Black Lives Matter, DC Vote, Democracy Initiative, Drum Majors for Change, and the Future Coalition. Some people traveled from far-away states invoking the names of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis and other civil rights leaders who fought to protect voting rights over the decades. More than 200 people were arrested in organized civil disobedience actions, including Barber.

“I want the White House to remember that the scripture says, ‘Woe onto those who legislate evil and rob the poor of their rights, and make women and children their prey,” said Barber. “In every battleground state, if just 20% of poor and low-wealth people who have not voted would vote and be organized together, they could determine every election in this country. And that is the sleeping giant that they are literally afraid of.”

Following the defeat of former President Donald Trump, Republican officials in multiple states introduced a slew of restrictive voting laws that follow a similar model. They cast doubt on the legitimacy of mail-in ballots and ramped up ID requirements, cut back early voting, and added other restrictive measures that are particularly burdensome for the working poor. More localized strategies, like limiting the number of polling sites in low-income and minority neighborhoods, have also had a depressing effect including during Wisconsin’s pandemic elections.

The Poor People’s Campaign condemns the obstructive use of the Senate filibuster, which makes it impossible to pass non-budget legislation without a 60-vote supermajority. By relying on the filibuster, Republicans have been able to stonewall voting rights legislation. . Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson backs the use of the filibuster and has continued to cast doubt on the results of the 2020 election. In July, the Poor People’s Campaign issued an open letter to Johnson demanding he change his stance. But it’s not just Republicans voting rights and reform activists are holding responsible. Read more

Revised voting rights bill named for John Lewis wins over one GOP senator