SCOTUS ruling in Cooper v. Harris will impact outstanding redistricting challenges in North Carolina

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion affirming a lower court’s ruling in Cooper v. Harris earlier today, holding that race predominated without justification in two of North Carolina’s U.S. Congressional Districts as drawn in 2011. It was a 5 -3 decision with Justice Gorsuch not participating.

Writing for the majority, Justice Kagan explained, “Although States enjoy leeway to take race-based actions reasonably judged necessary under a proper interpretation of the [Voting Rights Act,] that latitude cannot rescue District 1. We by no means “insist that a state legislature, when redistricting, determine precisely what percent minority population [§2 of the VRA] demands.” But neither will we approve a racial gerrymander whose necessity is supported by no evidence and whose raison d’être is a legal mistake.”

“We already have new Congressional Districts in North Carolina. What I find most significant is that the Legislature made the same legal mistake and used race the same way in drawing the state’s House and Senate districts. This opinion, with Justice Thomas joining the majority, must mean those districts are also unconstitutional,” Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

There are two other North Carolina redistricting cases currently before the U.S. Supreme Court – North Carolina v. Covington and Dickson v. Rucho, an appeal from the North Carolina Supreme Court. Both of them have been put on the Supreme Court’s conference calendar for May 25. It is likely that the Court will issue orders in the two pending cases early next week.

“This is good news for all North Carolinians because our democracy is strongest when we have fair districts that do not go block by block to separate voters on the basis of race,” added Anita Earls.

The two districts in question – NC 1 and NC 12 – were redrawn in February 2016 by the North Carolina General Assembly to comply with the lower court’s order. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision means that the state congressional districts can not be reverted back to their pre-February 2016 lines.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the Campaign Legal Center have filed a challenge to the maps drawn in February 2016 in League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho, challenging them as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. That trial is set to be heard in a federal court in Greensboro in June.

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Increase in NC School Suspension Rates Negatively Impacts Students

Report Shows over One Million Days of Classroom Instruction Lost in North Carolina Due to Suspensions

DURHAM, N.C. – A report released today from the Youth Justice Project finds that North Carolina public schools are increasingly using suspension as a means to address student misbehavior. This shift negatively impacts students as suspensions remove the child from the classroom, resulting in a loss of learning and an adverse impact on overall school climate. However, many schools lack the resources necessary to prevent and effectively address student misbehavior. As a result, suspension rates rose in the 2015-16 academic year after seeing declines in recent years.

“Over 100,000 public school students in North Carolina received one or more suspension or expulsion for the 2015-16 academic year,” said Ricky Watson Jr., co-director of the Youth Justice Project, citing the report’s findings. “We know that suspensions harm students and schools alike. Reducing our reliance on suspensions means a safer and more effective learning environment for all.”

Students can be suspended for small infractions, such as chewing gum in class or a cell phone ringing. In some cases, problems that used to be resolved in the principal’s office go straight to our court system. Court referrals negatively impact North Carolina youth who live in the only state that charges 16- and 17-year-olds as adults for all crimes, regardless of the offense. Prosecuting youth as adults leads to a lifelong criminal record and adult consequences for children who have not yet finished growing up.

This response can also have devastating impacts on certain student populations. For example, male students, African American students, and students with disabilities are disproportionately suspended and expelled, as well as reassigned to Alternative Learning Programs. Unfortunately, it is difficult to learn more about how students’ identities may impact suspension decisions as North Carolina Public Schools’ published data is limited in terms of disaggregated data on offense, socio-economic status, and race.

“Students should be held accountable in a manner that does not negatively affect their education or that of others,” said Peggy Nicholson, co-director of the Youth Justice Project. “It is time we pursue alternatives to suspensions and provide schools with the resources to do so.”

Link to the Suspension Fact Sheet: http://bit.ly/2pHbyhd

Link to the Suspension Full Report: http://bit.ly/2qkGx1Y

North Carolina voter suppression law falls as U.S. Supreme Court turns down GOP appeal

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has declined to review a federal appeals court decision holding that North Carolina’s 2013 election law — which imposed a voter ID requirement, cut a week of early voting, and eliminated same-day registration — intentionally discriminates against African-Americans. North Carolina has now exhausted all avenues of appeal.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice and American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law, which was struck down by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016. In early January, the state sought Supreme Court review, but the newly elected governor moved to drop the petition, prompting the legislators who passed the measure to try and intervene.

“We are grateful that the Supreme Court has decided to allow the Fourth Circuit’s ruling to stand, confirming that discrimination has no place in our democracy nor our elections,” said Allison Riggs, senior staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “This ruling sends a strong message that lawmakers in North Carolina should stop enacting laws that discriminate based on race.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, ACLU, and ACLU of North Carolina represented the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, North Carolina Common Cause, Unifour Onestop Collaborative, and several individuals.

“This law, enacted with what the appeals court called discriminatory intent and ‘almost surgical precision’ targeting African-American voters, is meeting its much-deserved demise,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “An ugly chapter in voter suppression is finally closing.”

 

The order is at: https://www.supremecourt.gov/orders/courtorders/051517zor_986b.pdf

Southern Coalition for Social Justice Statement on Trump Administration’s “Election Integrity Commission”

DURHAM, N.C. – Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, issued the following statement after President Trump signed an executive order creating a commission to investigate unfounded claims of voter fraud in American elections:

“The integrity of American elections are routinely examined and those examinations have continually found that voter fraud is nearly non-existent. President Trump’s commission appears to be a fishing expedition that is likely to yield no more evidence of voter fraud, but yet predictable proposals that will lead to depriving eligible voters of their constitutional rights.

“A recent audit of the 2016 general election in North Carolina showed only one case of voter impersonation that might have been prevented if voter ID were required – that’s one vote out of 4.8 million votes cast. Further, there were many voters throughout the state who were wrongly accused of being ineligible to vote and dragged before county boards of election to defend themselves. It’s not hard to see how President Trump’s commission could further intimidate and discourage eligible voters from participating in our elections.

“We should be finding ways to get more eligible voters engaged and participating in our political system instead of creating a commission focused on closing the doors on Americans.”

 

 

Federal Judges Rule Texas’ 2011 House Districts Intentionally Discriminated Against Voters

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS – The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas has issued an opinion in Perez v. Abbott, a case challenging Texas’ 2011 statewide redistricting plans, finding that districts drawn for the state House of Representatives intentionally discriminated against minority voters. The case has been pending since 2011 when the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) and co-counsel challenged the Congressional and State House redistricting plans on behalf of the Texas NAACP and three individual Texas voters. The Court issued its opinion on the 2011 Congressional plan on March 10, 2017.

Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who litigated the case, issued the following statement about the Court’s decision:

“Today a three-judge panel in Texas ruled that the state’s 2011 redistricting plan for State House districts was intentionally racially discriminatory, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act. The state failed to draw districts that reflected the explosive growth in minority population, and, indeed, fragmented those populations in order to avoid creating new minority opportunity districts. Plaintiffs will be in front of the court on April 27 to discuss next steps in ensuring that these violations are corrected before the 2018 elections.”

The opinion in the case can be found at http://bit.ly/TexasRedistricting

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Federal Judge Overturns Legislature’s Greensboro Redistricting Scheme

 

GREENSBORO, N.C. – A judge in the Middle District of North Carolina has found that the 2015 legislative redistricting of the Greensboro City Council districts was unconstitutional. Individual Plaintiffs represented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice challenged the maps on the grounds that the redistricting scheme:

  • Violated the “one person, one vote” doctrine by packing voters into certain districts and diluting their voting power;
  • Racially gerrymandered one city council district; and,
  • Treated Greensboro voters differently from voters in all other North Carolina communities by prohibiting voters from changing the city’s method of election by petition and referendum.   On this claim, the City of Greensboro also was a Plaintiff, represented by the Brooks Pierce law firm.

On April 3, federal District Court Judge Catherine C. Eagles ruled that prohibiting a referendum was unconstitutional. Further, she held that “the Act largely ignored legitimate redistricting criteria along the way to achieving a partisan goal.”  Because, as Judge Eagles wrote, “[t]he United States Constitution does not allow an electoral system which makes one person’s vote more powerful than another’s,” the entire redistricting plan is unconstitutional.  As a result of the decision, Greensboro will keep its current districts and voting structure.

A PDF of the court’s opinion can be found at http://bit.ly/GreensboroRedistricting.

After the ruling, Allison Riggs, Senior Attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and lead attorney on the case for the individual Plaintiffs, issued the following statement:

“We are pleased that the court recognized the wrong that would have been done to the City of Greensboro and its residents if this redistricting scheme were allowed to go into effect. We can debate policies and practices, but there are certain rights that should never be denied to anyone in America. One of those is the right to have everyone’s vote have the same weight.

“When the legislature overreached into local politics, it did so with no regard for respecting the people’s right to have their voice heard. Today, the court correctly provided a check for a gross legislative overreach.”

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Texas Legislative Districts Found Unconstitutional by Federal Court

 

SAN ANTONIO, TX – The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas has issued a partial opinion in Perez v. Abbott, a case challenging Texas’ 2011 statewide redistricting plans, striking down several U.S. Congressional districts in the state.  The case has been pending since 2011 when the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) and co-counsel challenged the redistricting plans on behalf of the Texas NAACP and three individual Texas voters.  

The Court not only found that several Texas Congressional districts diluted minority voting strength in violation of the Voting Rights Act, but also that the districts were drawn with the intent of discriminating against black and Latino voters.  While the decision involves districts in Southwest Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth area, it is likely that other districts will be impacted when the districts are redrawn.  With this finding of intentional racial discrimination, SCSJ and others will vigorously seek to have Texas “bailed in” under the Voting Rights Act, or once again subject to federal preclearance before any voting changes are implemented.

Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who litigated the case, issued the following statement about the Court’s decision:

“We are pleased that the court recognized and rejected the intentional discrimination that occurred when lawmakers drew Texas’ Congressional districts in 2011. One of America’s core values is that the government cannot discriminate based on race. This ruling confirms that legislatures are not free to mask racial discrimination with party politics.  It’s well past time for Texas lawmakers to draw fair Congressional and state legislative districts that allow the people and communities of the state to participate in their government without prejudice or bias.”

 

The opinion in the case can be found at http://bit.ly/PerezOpinion

The finding of facts in the case can be found at http://bit.ly/PerezFacts

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice also successfully challenged unconstitutional redistricting maps in North Carolina in Covington v. North Carolina. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering the writ certiorari in that case.


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Raise the Age Legislation Introduced in North Carolina

Legislation was introduced in the N.C. General Assembly earlier today that would raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction in North Carolina to 18 for low-level felonies and misdemeanors. Under House Bill 280, most 16-and 17-year-olds charged with crimes would be referred to the juvenile system instead of the adult criminal system, which is the current practice.

Members of the public wishing to support the effort to Raise the Age can sign a petition at https://raisetheagenc.org/take-action/.

Ricky Watson, Co-Director of the Youth Justice Project, released the following statement after the bill was introduced:

“The Youth Justice Project views raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction as a true investment in our state’s youth.  Raising the age will inevitably yield a lasting return from a public health, public safety, and economic standpoint. It will give more youth the opportunity to avoid the devastating collateral consequences of a criminal charge. Most of North Carolina’s 16- and 17-year-olds will no longer suffer the potentially lifelong stigma of a criminal conviction that makes finding employment, securing housing, and accessing education and financial aid far more difficult for North Carolina youth than their peers in other states.  YJP recognizes that holding 16- and 17-year olds accountable in the rehabilitative framework of juvenile court is in the best interest of the public, as well as that of the individual juveniles. It also gives North Carolina’s children the best opportunity to become productive, economically independent, and well-adjusted adults. Ultimately, YJP hopes that this will be the first in a number of steps to improve juvenile justice in our state.”

YJP recognizes that holding 16- and 17-year olds accountable in the rehabilitative framework of juvenile court is in the best interest of the public, as well as that of the individual juveniles. It also gives North Carolina’s children the best opportunity to become productive, economically independent, and well-adjusted adults. Ultimately, YJP hopes that this will be the first in a number of steps to improve juvenile justice in our state.”

More information about the Raise the Age Coalition can be found at https://raisetheagenc.org/

More information about HB 280 can be found at http://bit.ly/NCRaisetheAge

 

Federal Court Allows North Carolina Partisan Gerrymandering Case to Move Forward

 

Federal Court Allows North Carolina Partisan Gerrymandering Case to Move Forward

 

DURHAM, N.C. – In a unanimous ruling, a three judge panel in North Carolina in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina denied a request by defendants to dismiss League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho.  The case was initially filed in September 2016 claiming that partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina’s 2016 congressional redistricting plan violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The opinion can be found at http://bit.ly/PartisanGerrymandering2

“On behalf of our clients and the voters of North Carolina, we are happy that this case will now proceed to an examination of the evidence and the merits of our claims,” said Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “Our clients want to see government returned to rule by the will of the people instead of a system plagued by partisan manipulation.”

The trial in the case is set to begin on June 26, 2017, in Greensboro, N.C.

“We are inching closer to North Carolinians having their day in court,” said Ruth Greenwood, deputy director of redistricting at the Campaign Legal Center. “Voters should be able to choose their representatives, yet in North Carolina and other states across the nation, politicians are manipulating maps to choose their voters and stay in power. North Carolina’s map is an egregious partisan gerrymander that prevents voters from having their voices heard on policy decisions that directly impact their lives. Through this litigation, we hope to advance a legal theory we believe can stop this unconstitutional practice nationwide, and return democracy to the people.”

The lawsuit as filed in September 2016 can be found here: http://bit.ly/PartisanGerrymandering

More information about the “efficiency gap,” the standard being put forth to determine how partisan a redistricting plan is can be found here: http://www.southerncoalition.org/southern-coalition-for-social-justice-files-data-driven-partisan-gerrymandering-lawsuit/

 

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