Tag Archives: North Carolina

Judges Say N.C. GOP Dragging Its Feet On Redrawing Election Maps Ruled Unconstitutional

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Two federal judges said they are concerned that North Carolina legislative leaders have taken few if any steps to draw new election maps since they were struck down last year, and one judge suggested they don’t appear to be taking their duty seriously.

A three-judge panel is deciding when and how the electoral map must be remade.

“What concerns, at least me, is the seriousness of how this is being taken by the legislature. This is serious,” Judge James A. Wynn of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals told a lawyer for the legislative leaders at a Thursday hearing in federal court in Greensboro.

His fellow panel member, U.S District Judge Catherine Eagles, then added: “You don’t seem serious. What’s our assurance that you are serious about remedying this?”

The panel ruled in August 2016 that 28 state House and Senate districts were illegally drawn, based on racial considerations. After Republicans took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices agreed this summer that the districts must be redrawn. Democrats hope the new boundaries could help them erode the GOP’s veto-proof majorities in both legislative chambers.

Responding to the three judges’ concerns, a lawyer hired by state legislative leaders said the General Assembly has shown its commitment to redrawing the maps by holding a redistricting committee meeting this week and preparing to take input from the public.

“We’ve outlined a process to do what’s right for the people,” attorney Phillip Strach said.

The legislative leaders have argued that they need until November to draw new maps for use in the next regular election in the fall of 2018. Plaintiffs including voters and civil rights groups, however, say the maps must be redrawn immediately and that a special election should be held before the legislature convenes its next regular work session in May 2018.

The voting rights activists have successfully argued that the current maps packed too many Black voters into some districts and made surrounding districts whiter and thus more likely to elect Republicans.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers say the maps should be redrawn as soon as possible to remove uncertainty for candidates, voters and donors who would normally already be preparing for the next election. They said the court can decide separately whether a special election is warranted, but they presented a proposed schedule that would include a general election in March 2018, weeks before the legislative session.

Attorney Anita Earls of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice said the argument boils down to weighing the value of extensive public comment sought by Republicans against “people knowing as soon as possible the value of their civic engagement.”

Lawyers for GOP legislative leaders also say the U.S. Supreme Court has strongly signaled that special elections aren’t warranted. The three-judge panel had previously told the state to hold special legislative elections in 2017, but the Supreme Court rejected that timetable. However, when the high court returned the case to the three judges it left the door open for them to again order a special election.

Democrats need to capture three House seats or six Senate seats currently held by Republicans to eliminate the GOP’s veto-proof majorities and give first-term Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper a stronger hand.

Legal filings by the legislative leaders have said boundaries of about two-thirds of all 170 House and Senate districts are likely to be altered to fix the 28 that were struck down.

The judges said they would issue a ruling later.

By Associated Press

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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NC Budget cuts legal aid for poor, but no explanation given….what the hell…just Because… we can do whatever we want b/c we are in CONTROL!!!!

Legislators took a bite this past session out of taxpayer funding for poor people caught up in the courts system, and it’s unclear why.

The heads of the three agencies that used this money – and a much larger pot of threatened federal funding – to handle thousands of child custody cases, landlord/tenant disputes and other civil matters said they received no notice for the cut and that they’ve gotten no explanation in the ensuing month.

“We were totally blindsided,” said Kenneth Schorr, executive director at Legal Services of Southern Piedmont. “There was no communication this was on the table.”

The cut materialized in the House. Legislative staff there referred WRAL News to Speaker

Tim Moore’s office for an explanation, but his spokesman said Moore would not comment on the matter.

The four co-chairmen of the House’s Justice and Public Safety Appropriations Committee did not respond to WRAL News requests for comment. The only possible explanations Schorr and similar agency heads have heard came third-hand or worse and may be little more than speculation.

“All we’ve gotten is rumor,” said George R. Hausen Jr., president and executive director of Legal Aid of North Carolina, the largest of three attorney groups that get state money for this work.

The lack of communication fits a pattern, as other questions on unrelated budget cuts during and after the legislative session also were met with silence.

More from WRAL.com

Posted by Libergirl

 

Is North Carolina stuck in an abusive relationship?

Behavior of state leaders, state policy community raise warning flags

Image: NC Policy Watch

The last seven years in North Carolina politics and policy have been extraordinary. In a very short period of time, a once moderate state has been transformed into a kind of laboratory for far right policies and a testing ground for what we are coming to know now as Trumpism. On issue after issue, state legislative leaders have aggressively pursued an ultra-conservative agenda that seeks to radically remake the state’s social contract.

What’s more, this has not been a happy or buoyant transformation. Rather than being predicated on a positive or hopeful new vision of society, the conservative revolution in North Carolina has mostly been a counter-revolution. Even today, a point at which they enjoy veto-proof majorities and can realistically contemplate an entire decade in power, conservative legislative leaders premise most of their actions and policies more on an angry rejection of past supposed transgressions by Democrats than a coherent articulation of what they want to build.

More from NC Policy Watch

Posted by Libergirl

NC’s Final budget delivers hits to legal services, emergency judges, Department of Justice

It’s only been a little over 24 hours since the North Carolina General Assembly introduced its final budget and its already well on its way to a House vote after passing the Senate on Tuesday.

There is plenty to read in the 438-page document and plenty to get confused about. Below are a few highlights from the Justice and Public Safety budget:

Raise the Age

Lawmakers have finally agreed to raise the juvenile age of prosecution from 16 and 17 years old to 18 years old. The final budget allocates $519,600 the first fiscal year toward “Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act Planning” and $478,000 the second fiscal year.

The budget policy decision mandates that 16- and 17-year-olds who are accused of committing misdemeanors and two classes of felonies no longer be automatically prosecuted in the adult criminal system.

The policy decision also increases the information available on juveniles to law enforcement and establishes a juvenile jurisdiction advisory committee to help with implementation. You can read more about the decision beginning on page 309 of the budget.

The proposed budget would cut $1.7 million in legal services programs across the state, affecting those most in need and almost assuredly creating unequal access to justice.

The Access to Civil Justice Act funds all traditional legal services programs, including Legal Aid Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC), Legal Services of Southern Piedmont and Pisgah Legal Services.

As written in the final budget, the provision means that $1.50 of every court fee imposed in District and Superior Courts would no longer be distributed to the North Carolina State Bar for legal services. It could also mean reducing LANC staff across the state by 50 to 60 or more positions.

More from NC Policy Watch

Posted by Libergirl

Leaked Documents Reveal Counterterrorism Tactics Used at Standing Rock to “Defeat Pipeline Insurgencies”

A shadowy international mercenary and security firm known as TigerSwan targeted the movement opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline with military-style counterterrorism measures, collaborating closely with police in at least five states, according to internal documents obtained by The Intercept. The documents provide the first detailed picture of how TigerSwan, which originated as a U.S. military and State Department contractor helping to execute the global war on terror, worked at the behest of its client Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline, to respond to the indigenous-led movement that sought to stop the project.

Internal TigerSwan communications describe the movement as “an ideologically driven insurgency with a strong religious component” and compare the anti-pipeline water protectors to jihadist fighters. One report, dated February 27, 2017, states that since the movement “generally followed the jihadist insurgency model while active, we can expect the individuals who fought for and supported it to follow a post-insurgency model after its collapse.” Drawing comparisons with post-Soviet Afghanistan, the report warns, “While we can expect to see the continued spread of the anti-DAPL diaspora … aggressive intelligence preparation of the battlefield and active coordination between intelligence and security elements are now a proven method of defeating pipeline insurgencies.”

More than 100 internal documents leaked to The Intercept by a TigerSwan contractor, as well as a set of over 1,000 documents obtained via public records requests, reveal that TigerSwan spearheaded a multifaceted private security operation characterized by sweeping and invasive surveillance of protesters.

As policing continues to be militarized and state legislatures around the country pass laws criminalizing protest, the fact that a private security firm retained by a Fortune 500 oil and gas company coordinated its efforts with local, state, and federal law enforcement to undermine the protest movement has profoundly anti-democratic implications. The leaked materials not only highlight TigerSwan’s militaristic approach to protecting its client’s interests but also the company’s profit-driven imperative to portray the nonviolent water protector movement as unpredictable and menacing enough to justify the continued need for extraordinary security measures. Energy Transfer Partners has continued to retain TigerSwan long after most of the anti-pipeline campers left North Dakota, and the most recent TigerSwan reports emphasize the threat of growing activism around other pipeline projects across the country.

More from The Intercept

Posted by Libergirl

4 Libs And… Clarence Thomas Unite To Smack North Carolina’s Racial Gerrymandering

This isn’t a surprising vote from Thomas, if you know how crazy he really is.

Clarence Thomas is color-blind. Granted, he’s taken that to the logical extreme of stabbing out his own eyes so he figuratively can’t see anything even when it’s staring him right in the face. But he would rather let you be racist than allow the law to acknowledge race.

It’s frustrating when this blind race-denier fumbles about preventing progress because he stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the world as it is. But occasionally, rarely, Thomas’s philosophy leads him to a place that isn’t completely wrong and unhelpful.

Such is the case in Cooper v. Harris. Justice Elena Kagan wrote a majority opinion concluding that North Carolina illegally used race in gerrymandering one of its districts. The opinion upheld a lower court ruling.

The 5 – 3 majority was made up of Kagan, Justices Ginsburg, Bryer, Sotomayor, and Clarence Thomas. Thomas signed on, in full, to Kagan’s opinion. He wrote a short concurrence to basically say “I always think this, but sometimes the libs are dumb.”

That doesn’t happen every Monday.

The whole issue of racial gerrymandering involves the Courts trying to prescribe when and how it’s okay for district map makers to be racist. The standard is that race cannot be the “predominate” factor in drawing a district. But politics can be. And so the game, regardless of whether you are trying to give minorities less electoral power or representative electoral power, is to figure out how to do it without making race “predominate.”

Whatever the hell that means.

North Carolina had a couple of districts where black candidates had a decent shot at winning, and so North Carolina got the bright idea of trying to shove as many minorities as possible into those districts, leaving the rest of their districts free of meddlesome darkies who might screw up their by-whites, for-whites election. North Carolina came up with the novel argument that the Voting Rights Act required the state to shove all the black people into a few districts, to make the state comply with fair political representation, even though the districts they were shoving people into were already balanced. Moreover, North Carolina gerrymanders didn’t really engage into any kind of inquiry into the political make-up of those districts: they just kind of noticed that there were a lot of black people in those districts and essentially tried to ghettoize them.

Kagan and the Court were unimpressed.

That’s not surprising from the liberals, but it is also NOT surprising from Thomas. Thomas doesn’t think racial gerrymandering is okay, and he doesn’t much care if you are doing it to help minorities or to hurt minorities. In his brief concurrence, he adds “In my view, §2 [of the Voting Rights Act] does not apply to redistricting and therefore cannot justify a racial gerrymander.”

Court fines and fees: Another barrier to North Carolina’s ballot box

How much money do you have to pay before you cast your ballot on Election Day?

Image result for court fees
Image: myfloridalaw.com

For most North Carolinians, the answer might seem obvious: none. As the cornerstone of our democracy, voting is supposed to be fair, accessible – and free. But for an increasing number of North Carolinians, the right to vote can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

How is that possible? The answer is because North Carolina denies the right to vote to people who have felony convictions but cannot afford to pay their court costs, even if they have satisfied all other probation requirements.

Thanks to an ever-growing system of mandatory fines and fees, those caught up in the criminal justice system can be forced to pay anywhere from $40 to hundreds of dollars a month for the cost of their court administration, jail fees, probation, electronic monitoring, drug testing, even community service – and more. If they are unable to pay, they face a penalty fee for nonpayment, increasing their fees and lengthening their probation period.

These costs have increased substantially over time. In 1999, the base cost a person would pay for a superior court date was $106. Today the base cost is $198 with the potential to grow to more than $10,000 in serious cases as additional penalties snowball. Even if they have served all the terms of their sentence, even if they have had no probation violations, low-income people often remain on probation simply because they are low-income. And in far too many North Carolina courts, judges will not conduct hearings on a person’s inability to pay, as is required by law.

More from NC Policy Watch

Posted by Libergirl