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ACLU and SCSJ Condemn Ruling in North Carolina Voting Lawsuit

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. —The American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Coalition for Social Justice condemned today’s federal court ruling upholding provisions of North Carolina’s restrictive voting law. The groups are analyzing the court’s decision and considering next steps.

The groups are challenging provisions that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit the counting of out-of-precinct ballots. Thousands of North Carolinians, disproportionately African-Americans, have relied on those provisions to cast their votes in past elections.

“The sweeping barriers imposed by this law undermine voter participation and have an overwhelmingly discriminatory impact on African-Americans. This ruling does not change that reality. We are already examining an appeal,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

The ACLU, ACLU of North Carolina, and Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed the lawsuit in 2013 on behalf of several plaintiffs, including the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, North Carolina Common Cause, and Unifour Onestop Collaborative, and several individuals.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals previously ordered North Carolina to restore same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting for the 2014 elections as the case made its way through the courts; that ruling was ultimately reversed, however, and the provisions remained in effect.

“Today’s ruling is inconsistent with the Fourth Circuit’s decision in 2014, and we’re confident that the voters in this state will eventually be vindicated,” said Southern Coalition for Social Justice senior attorney Allison Riggs.

At federal trial in July 2015, dozens of witnesses spoke of how the law has severely restricted ballot access for the state’s most vulnerable citizens, including low-income voters, those with transportation challenges, and particularly African-American voters. In the 2012 election, 900,000 North Carolinians cast their ballots during the seven days of early voting eliminated by the North Carolina General Assembly – 70 percent of those who voted early were African-American.

The ACLU and Southern Coalition for Social Justice charge the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act.

 

Read the ruling here

 

Youth Justice

SCSJ’s Youth Justice Project Welcomes New Co-Directors

Two new staff members join the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) this month. Attorneys Ricky Watson and Peggy Nicholson will serve as Co-Directors of the Youth Justice Project (formerly Youth Justice North Carolina), which merged with SCSJ in early January 2015.

The Youth Justice Project (YJP) works to ensure equity, fairness, and justice for youth in high-quality education, juvenile, and criminal systems. YJP’s work is a natural extension of SCSJ’s ongoing dedication to addressing issues of racial equity in education, eliminating racial bias in the juvenile and criminal systems, ending mass incarceration, and removing unjust barriers faced by persons with criminal records.

“On behalf of the SCSJ staff and board, we are thrilled to welcome Peggy and Ricky,” said Anita Earls, SCSJ’s Executive Director. “This represents a crucial new stage in our work that has been over a year in the making for us, and involved even longer planning and effort from the Youth Justice Project Advisory Council.”

Ricky comes to SCSJ with a long-standing commitment to public service. He has worked in the justice system as an Assistant Public Defender in Guilford County, representing hundreds of adult and juvenile clients in court proceedings. While focusing primarily on juvenile delinquency matters, Ricky developed an understanding of the issues plaguing the juvenile system and the need for structural changes. After a brief hiatus to work for the Federal Government, Ricky is excited and eager to get back to work on issues that matter with SCSJ!

For the past four years, Peggy has worked on education justice issues in her capacity as an attorney with Advocates for Children’s Services of Legal Aid of North Carolina.  As a Legal Aid attorney, Peggy represented hundreds of students and parents experiencing school push-out, conducted dozens of community outreach presentations on school-to-prison pipeline issues, and collaborated with numerous education justice advocates across the state.  She is excited to continue this work in her role as YJP Co-Director with SCSJ.

“We are so fortunate to have found two dedicated and dynamic advocates who care passionately about the need to change our educational and juvenile justice systems,” said Earls.  “We know together their skills and talents will make a lasting positive contribution to the Youth Justice Project mission.”

For more information on the Youth Justice Project, please visit http://youthjusticenc.org/ or contact the Co-Directors at the emails below.

 

Ricky Watson: rickywatsonjr@scsj.org

Peggy Nicholson: peggynicholson@scsj.org

TXNAACP

SCSJ Files Brief in Police Shooting Case

SCSJ Files Amicus Curiae Brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Urging Reversal of District Court Grant of Immunity in Controversial Police Shooting Case

Brief, submitted on behalf of Texas NAACP, argues decision sets a dangerous precedent

February 23, 2016

AUSTIN, TX – This afternoon, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the case of State of Texas v. Charles Kleinert. The brief, which was submitted on behalf of the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches and its affiliate, the Austin NAACP, concerns the death of an unarmed African-American man, Larry Jackson, Jr., killed in 2013 by a point blank gunshot to the back of the head fired by Austin police officer Charles Kleinert.  Kleinert claimed he killed Jackson by accident after attempting to bludgeon him with a loaded pistol.  By Kleinert’s own account, Jackson posed him no threat and was being pursued for a non-violent crime at the time of his death.

Following a state grand jury indictment for manslaughter, Officer Kleinert’s attorneys invoked a rarely utilized federal removal statute, transferring criminal jurisdiction from the State of Texas to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, whereupon U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel granted Officer Kleinert immunity from criminal prosecution.  Citing Kleinert’s participation in a federal task force, and relying heavily on separation of powers principles that the NAACP contends were inapposite to the case, Judge Yeakel found the officer was entitled to Supremacy Clause immunity.  In what the NAACP contends is a dangerous precedent, the district court held that Texas could not criminally charge an officer acting in a federal capacity for objectively reckless conduct resulting in the death of an arrestee.

In its brief in support of the State of Texas, the NAACP argues that, contrary to the holding of the federal district court, it can never been “necessary” or “proper” to knowingly place the suspect of a nonviolent crime at a substantial and unjustifiable risk of serious injury or death.  The organization asserts that the court’s opinion to the contrary amounts to a blueprint for police officers affiliated with federal agencies to evade accountability for conduct that would otherwise be regarded as criminal.  This danger is particularly acute in light of the recent proliferation of joint state-federal task forces and the increasing number of officers who could exploit this loophole by invoking some nexus to federal authority.

Ian Mance, an SCSJ staff attorney who authored the brief, pointed to a series of recent incidents of police-involved shootings captured on camera as evidence that any rule permitting a grant of immunity on the basis of an officer’s self-serving statement will inevitably result in injustice.  “As the videos from the recent cases of Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, and Laquan McDonald make painfully clear, police officers are not above mischaracterizing circumstances giving rise to their decision to employ deadly force.  When the shooting officer is the only surviving witness, courts must carefully scrutinize the factual record and physical evidence before taking the extraordinary step of granting immunity.  That clearly did not happen in this case.  The federal district court’s decision to strip Texas courts of jurisdiction and grant Officer Kleinert immunity for his shooting of Mr. Jackson represents a significant blow to the public trust.  We are hopeful that the Fifth Circuit will reverse the district court’s decision and remand the case back to Texas courts.”

You can read the brief here.

Justice

Coalition of Civic Organizations Sues North Carolina for Failing to Comply with Federal Voting Rights Obligations

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 15, 2015

 

Contacts

Michael McDunnah, Project Vote

202-905-1397 / mmcdunnah@projectvote.org

 

Hayley Home, Morrison Foerster

415-268-6021 / hhome@mofo.com

 

Donté Donald, Demos

212-485-6062 / ddonald@demos.org

 

Allison Riggs, Southern Coalition for Social Justice

919-323-3380 ext. 117 / allison@southerncoalition.org

 

Stacie Burgess, Lawyers’ Committee

202-445-6101 / sburgess@lawyerscommittee.org

 

Coalition of Civic Organizations Sues North Carolina for Failing to Comply with Federal Voting Rights Obligations

The state of North Carolina is being sued over state’s violations of

 Sections V and VII of the National Voter Registration Act

 

GREENSBORO, N.C.–Widespread disenfranchisement and a steep decline in voter registration activity have led a coalition of civic organizations and voters to file a lawsuit against the state of North Carolina for violation of an important federal voting rights law.

Today, attorneys for Action NC, Democracy North Carolina, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) and three individual North Carolina citizens filed suit against the state officials responsible for elections, public assistance programs and motor vehicle services for failing to provide federally mandated voter registration opportunities, in violation of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), in the U.S. District Court Middle District of North Carolina.

The NVRA, commonly referred to as the “Motor Voter” law, is aimed at increasing voting opportunities for eligible citizens by making voter registration accessible at the government locations people visit most frequently. The NVRA requires that public assistance agencies—like the agencies that run WIC, TANF, and Medicaid—and motor vehicle offices provide specific voter registration services to individuals whenever they apply for or renew public assistance benefits, driver’s licenses, or state-issued identification cards, as well as when they report a change of address to the relevant state agency.

“Simply stated, this lawsuit is about vindicating the right of every North Carolinian who interacts with a public assistance office or the Division of Motor Vehicles to register to vote with the confidence that when she goes to the polls, she will be able to cast a ballot and have that ballot counted,” said Matthew M. D’Amore, partner at Morrison and Foerster LLP, which, along with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Dēmos, Project Vote and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), are representing the plaintiffs on a pro bono basis.

Earlier this year, the plaintiffs sent letters to the North Carolina State Board of Elections, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) notifying them that they were violating the NVRA, and urging them to fix the problems and bring the state into compliance with the law. According to the plaintiffs, North Carolina failed to remedy its NVRA violations in response to the letters.

“We had hoped that we could work cooperatively with the State to ensure that individuals were being provided the voter registration services federal law requires,” said Bob Hall, Executive Director of Democracy North Carolina. “Unfortunately, these North Carolina agencies have dragged their feet on fixing the problems we identified in our letters, and it has become clear that federal litigation is necessary to bring North Carolina into compliance with the NVRA.”

State data show a steep decline, beginning in 2012, in the number of voter registration applications originating from public assistance agencies, far exceeding any change in the public assistance caseload.

“North Carolina’s public assistance agencies are routinely failing to provide NVRA-mandated voter registration services,” said Allison Riggs, Senior Attorney at Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “Extensive interviews conducted at public assistance offices in 11 counties found rampant lapses in compliance with the law, lapses that are having a huge impact on North Carolina voters.”

“The recent drop in agency-based voter registration applications cannot be explained by voter apathy or a dearth of competitive elections,” said Pat McCoy, Executive Director of Action NC. “In 2014 there were some highly competitive elections in North Carolina and, because the state has not been meeting its voter registration obligations, organizations like ours have had to pick up the slack and carry on the work that is and should be the state’s responsibility, under the NVRA.”

“The NVRA requires that public assistance agencies provide voter registration services in order to help low-income individuals and persons with disabilities—folks who are less likely to come into contact with motor vehicle agencies—get registered and participate in the American political process,” said Melvin Montford, Executive Director of the North Carolina APRI.

North Carolina is also failing to place many voters on the rolls when they attempt to register at DMV offices. The state is similarly failing to offer required voter registration services to individuals who renew their driver’s licenses or non-driver identification cards through the mail or on the DMV website.

“A significant number of individuals across North Carolina—including our client Sherry Holverson— were forced to vote provisionally in the most recent election, despite having requested to register or update their registration through the North Carolina DMV,” said Catherine M. Flanagan, Senior Counsel for Project Vote.  “For example, over 150 individuals in Mecklenburg County alone were unable to cast a regular ballot in the 2014 General Election because of apparent DMV errors in processing their voter registrations.”

Ms. Holverson, one of the individual plaintiffs in this case, is a qualified North Carolina voter who changed her registration information at a DMV office after moving from one county to another in 2014. When Ms. Holverson went to cast a ballot in the 2014 General Election, she was told that her name was not on the registration rolls and was given a provisional ballot. As a result, Ms. Holverson was disenfranchised because her provisional ballot was not counted due to DMV record-keeping errors.

“Our clients did everything right: they visited the DMV before the deadline for registering to vote; they indicated that they wanted to register to vote or update their voter information; and they left the DMV having been told that they would be registered to vote,” said Stuart C. Naifeh, Senior Counsel at Dēmos. “But when they showed up to vote in the 2014 election, their names were not on the list of registered voters. Because of the DMV’s violations of the law, these North Carolina citizens were deprived of their right to vote.”

This is not the first time North Carolina has had to bring its voter registration procedures into compliance with the law. In 2006, voting rights advocates brought compliance problems at public assistance agencies to the attention of the Executive Director of the State Board of Elections, and cooperatively developed a plan that, until 2011, dramatically improved the state’s compliance with its voter registration obligations at public assistance offices.  See Dēmos, Expanding Voter Registration for Low-Income Citizens: How North Carolina is Realizing the Promise of the National Voter Registration Act, April 2008.

According to today’s complaint, “[t]his history shows that compliance with the NVRA is achievable and results in a substantial increase in public assistance voter applications. The survey data and voter registration data available today demonstrate that the [state is] no longer in compliance, however, and that injunctive relief to remedy these violations is required.”

“The NVRA plays an essential role in both protecting and promoting the fundamental right to vote,” said Dorian Spence, associate counsel at Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We look forward to securing an expeditious remedy to North Carolina’s violations of the NVRA and to seeing a more robust democratic process in North Carolina.”

The defendants in the lawsuit, all named in their official capacities, are Kim Strach, the Executive Director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections (SBOE); Rick Brajer, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, who oversees the operations of the state’s public assistance agencies; Kelly Thomas, Commissioner of the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles; and Nick Tennyson, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Transportation, who together oversee the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles.

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Daryl Presents at Philanthrophy NY

Daryl Atkinson attends 3 major Criminal Justice Reform Conferences This Week

This week Daryl attended three different criminal justice reform conferences around the country.

On Monday, November 9th he participated in the Criminal Justice and Public Health National Convening hosted at the Ford Foundation in New York. The main focus of the conference was to bring together public health professionals and criminal justice reform advocates, to create a shared vision for public health inclusion in the criminal justice reform movement.

The following day on Tuesday, November 10th Daryl spoke at the Justice Reform: The End of Mass Incarceration Briefing. The event was hosted by Philanthropy New York and included participants from over 20 foundations interested in criminal justice reform. Watch the briefing.

Wrapping up the week, Daryl is presenting at the National Consumer Law Conference along with co presenter Michelle Drake of law firm Nichols Kaster. Their presentation focuses on how the Fair Credit Reporting Act can be used to achieve racial equity. The National Consumer Law Center is hosting the event in San Antonio from Thursday, November 12th through Saturday, November 14th.  Consumer Rights Litigation Conference.

 

 

 

 

CFA5

Ian Mance presents at Code for America Summit

At this year’s Code for America Summit in Oakland, CA, SCSJ’s Ian Mance presented on Identifying Racial Bias in Policing Practices. In 1999 North Carolina became the first state to pass legislation allowing the State Bureau of Investigations to collect traffic stop data from state, city and county police departments.

This massive collection of data was requested by Ian as a law student at the University of North Carolina. To his surprise the data came on a CD drive in the form of a huge text file. The data set proved to be an incredible resource and he was soon contacted by other jurisdictions that wanted to take a look at their local traffic stop information. To keep up with the demand Ian knew the data needed to be compiled into a more user friendly and accessible platform. 

He contacted Colin Copeland of Code for Durham to discuss his idea and the Open Data Policing NC website was born. The primary use of the website is to gather and display NC traffic stop data for all 100 counties and each of the law enforcement agencies within those counties. Everyone from the Greensboro Police Department to the campus police at universities.  

The website’s dual purpose makes it a resource for communities and a management tool for police chiefs. The website illustrates specific data sets of Stops, People, and Searches and only the ID numbers of officers. Visitors can easily utilize the website’s search feature to research their local police stop data. Users are provided graphs and correlations of how different races and ethnicities are treated in traffic stops.

Before the Open Data Policing NC website, huge collections of data illustrating high disparities in traffic stops, consent searches, and the reporting of contraband seized in searches were being collected but no one studied it. Now community based groups, criminal defense lawyers, law enforcement agencies have a incredible tool to bring about improvement in police management. Recently Roanoke Rapids, Chapel Hill, and Greenville used data to start police reforms within their local agencies.

Watch the whole presentation here

 

fed ban the box 2

SCSJ’s Daryl Atkinson meets with POTUS on Ban the Box

President Obama Announces Federal Ban the Box.  SCSJ’s Daryl Atkinson is in Newark, NJ today for a round table discussion with President Obama, Senator Cory Booker and other members of the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples’ Movement who have been working for many months to achieve better policies.  While in Newark, the President will highlight the re-entry process of formerly incarcerated individuals who are working to put their lives back on track and earn their second chance. The President will visit a residential facility, Integrity House, and later convene a round table discussion at Rutgers University – Newark, Center for Law & Justice, where he will also deliver a statement.

Today’s White House Press Release details the new actions and facts to promote rehabilitation for the former incarcerated.

Note the Federal Ban the Box will only apply to federal employment and not independent contractors. MSNBC writes about the President’s landmark announcement today.

In October 2014 the Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People’s Movement (FICPM) went to the Department of Justice and made four demands, changes to the policy around public housing for former prisoners were one of them. Daryl drafted a memorandum on behalf of the FICPM or their request for policy change.  Today’s New York Times highlighted this policy change.