SCSJ joins call for more diversity within the Federal Reserve

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is among the 32 community groups that sent a letter to Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen calling for greater diversity, representation, and fairness within the nation’s central banking system.   Other signatories include the AFL-CIO, NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center, Action NC and 27 others.

The request points out that “[t]he Federal Reserve will be strengthened by having Presidents and members of Boards of Directors whose experience and expertise better reflect the large segments of our economy and our population that are not proportionally benefiting from economic growth. Ensuring that these perspectives are represented within the Fed is a critical way to prepare the Fed for the challenges and opportunities in our economic future. When the voices of people of color, women, and those with backgrounds from labor and non-profits are excluded, their interests are often neglected.”

In hopes of building an economy that is fairer and more representative for all of our communities, we hope Chair Yellen heeds the call.  You can read the full letter below.

 

North Carolina is Poised to Raise the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction

RALEIGH, NC — The state budget released yesterday by leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly contains policy language and funding provisions that will raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction in the state. Currently, North Carolina is the only state in the country to automatically charge all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, regardless of the offense.

“If this budget becomes law, most North Carolina children will no longer be treated as adults by the criminal justice system,” said Peggy Nicholson, co-director of the Youth Justice Project, an initiative of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “Instead of saddling our kids with the consequences of a lifelong criminal record, we will provide more effective and rehabilitative services to those who desperately need it. Raising the age protects our kids from the harms of the adult criminal system, as well as our communities by reducing recidivism rates.”

Two-thirds of children in the criminal justice system have at least one disability. The juvenile justice system is a far more productive setting for these children than the adult criminal justice system because it offers needed services and support that can help youth with disabilities stay on track in the future. The adolescent brain is still developing and responds well to interventions. With support, young people can learn to make responsible choices and are likely to grow out of negative or delinquent behavior.

“It is astounding that it took us this long to stop prosecuting children as adults, but this is a big moment and we applaud those who worked hard to make it happen,” said Ricky Watson Jr., co-director of the Youth Justice Project. “Many advocates, family members, and legislators dedicated themselves to this issue for many years.  Now, we need to keep moving forward and think about how we continue to ensure that the children of North Carolina get the opportunities they deserve.”

Clean Slate

Clean Slate Clinic registration is open!

Pre-registration is currently open for our next Clean Slate clinic! Pre-registration is required if you want to meet with an attorney at this event. To pre-register, call 919-323-3380 ext. 152 before June 20, 2017. You must attend the clinic to receive free legal services. 

When: June 24, 2017, 9 am to 3 pm (doors open at 8:30 am)

Where: Fruit of Labor Cultural Center (4200 Lake Ridge Dr., Raleigh)

Learn more: cleanslatenc.org 

The Clean Slate Project works to address the collateral consequences of having a criminal record in North Carolina. We provide direct legal services, advocacy, and policy work, with the goal of supporting organizing efforts to ensure that people impacted by the criminal justice system are leading the movement for reform.

Clean Slate

U.S. Supreme Court Affirms that North Carolina Racially Gerrymandered State Legislative Districts

North Carolina’s federal Middle District Court will consider when new districts are to be drawn and elections to be held

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court summarily affirmed a lower court’s decision in Covington v. North Carolina that 28 of North Carolina’s state legislative districts are racial gerrymanders. The decision was issued “per curiam” – meaning by a unanimous decision of the Court. The ruling came two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court found two of the state’s U.S. Congressional districts were also racial gerrymanders.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has finally and emphatically confirmed what we’ve known for years – that many of North Carolina’s state legislative districts are unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.  The order reaffirms that our clients, and the voters of this state, are entitled to have fair legislative districts that do not discriminate against voters based on their race,” said Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay in January, which did not affect the merits of the lower court’s decision but delayed its remedy calling for a special election in 2017.  The stay is now lifted, and the order has been sent back to North Carolina’s Middle District Court to re-establish timelines for drawing new districts and holding state legislative elections.  In its 2016 order for the General Assembly to draw new districts and hold elections in 2017, the three-judge panel wrote, “[w]hile special elections have costs, those costs pale in comparison to the injury caused by allowing citizens to continue to be represented by legislators elected pursuant to a racial gerrymander.”

“The court previously called for holding elections later this year in newly drawn districts.  We think there is still time to implement special elections in the impacted districts, and we will do everything we can to make sure that happens,” added Anita Earls.  “Many North Carolinians have been participating in unfair elections in racially gerrymandered districts for far too long.  It’s time to fix this problem.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, along with the Poyner Spruill law firm, represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

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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Youth Justice Project Wins Racial Equity Award

On Thursday, May 17, 2017, the North Carolina Public Defender Committee on Racial Equity awarded the James E. Williams, Jr. Award to Ricky Watson and Peggy Nicholson of the Youth Justice Project (YJP) of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

Below is some of the great work the Committee highlighted in their award presentation:

‘The Youth Justice Project (YJP) was founded in 2015 with the mission to ensure equity, fairness, and justice for youth in high-quality education, juvenile and criminal systems. Hopefully, this is the year where we may see North Carolina raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction. YJP has worked tirelessly since 2015 to educate policymakers, youth and communities about the importance of this issue. They have organized events and meetings, participated in hearings, gathered signatures, created materials and even produced a documentary that is being screened all over North Carolina. YJP has been an early advocate of Misdemeanor Diversion Programs for 16- and 17-year-old first offenders. The group has supported their creation with resources and guidance in jurisdictions across the State. Equity informs all of YJP’s work. The organization has created Racial Equity Report Cards which analyze racial disproportionalities in public education and juvenile justice systems. It has highlighted the disparate impact of school discipline policies and they have created and distributed a “Know Your Rights” card that outlines an individual’s rights when interacting with law enforcement.’

Congratulations to Ricky and Peggy for their tireless effort to improve the lives of young people all across the south!

To check out more of the Youth Justice Project’s great work, visit http://youthjusticenc.org/.

For more information on the North Carolina Public Defender Committee on Racial Equity, please visit http://ncids.com/pd-core/

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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