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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Southern Coalition for Social Justice files brief in police shooting case, County of Los Angeles v. Mendez

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice has filed a Brief of Amici Curiae on behalf of the NAACP and Policy Council on Law Enforcement and the Mentally Ill (PCLEMI) in County of Los Angeles v. Mendez, currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.  Scheduled to be argued in March, the case involves important questions about the facts and circumstances courts should consider when evaluating the reasonableness of a police officer’s use of deadly force. The brief can be read at southerncoalition.org/mendez.

Angel Mendez and his wife Jennifer were laying on a futon in their home in June 2010 when two LA County Sheriff’s Deputies, searching for another person who had earlier been sighted nearby, made an unannounced, warrantless entry through the front door.  The deputies’ sudden entry prompted Angel Mendez to sit up.  Mendez’s movement caused a broken BB gun to shift and inadvertently face the front door, causing the deputies to perceive a threat and open fire.  The deputies fired 15 shots at Angel and Jennifer, who was 7 months pregnant.  The couple suffered severe, permanent injuries, and Angel’s leg had to be amputated.  By the deputies’ own admission, the Mendezes committed no wrongdoing.  There was nothing they could have done to avoid being shot, and they had no connection to the individual the deputies had been searching for.

The Mendezes filed suit and secured a judgment that held the deputies liable for excessive force both under a theory of officer provocation and traditional tort law principles.  The defendants and various law enforcement and municipal organizations have now asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn that judgment, arguing that that the presence of the BB gun made it reasonable for the deputies to perceive a threat warranting the use of deadly force.  They have asked the Court to hold that the deputies’ unlawful entry into the home is irrelevant for purposes of evaluating the reasonableness, and thus lawfulness, of their actions.  The United States has also filed a brief urging the Court to reverse the lower court decision.

SCSJ’s brief with the NAACP and PCLEMI urges the Court to do just the opposite and emphasizes the important role civil liability plays in deterring police misconduct.  The brief argues that when officers cause people to be subjected to deadly force in circumstances that are objectively unreasonable and of the officers’ own making, the Fourth Amendment holds them accountable.  This is particularly true in cases involving unannounced, warrantless entries into the home, which create a foreseeable danger of confrontation with a startled homeowner.  Courts rarely award anything more than nominal damages for an unlawful search.   The brief argues that if officers know they will not be held liable for the foreseeable consequences of unlawful searches, they are more likely to occur.

The brief also argues that the approach proposed by law enforcement organizations poses unique dangers to people of color, who have historically been subjected to disproportionate use of deadly force.  The brief highlights social science research about the danger of implicit bias, which poses its greatest threat when officers are faced with making split-second judgments about the use of deadly force in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving.  A variety of studies are cited indicating that people of color are more likely to be perceived as deadly threats in such situations.  SCSJ and its partners argue the Court should account for the emerging literature on implicit bias when crafting rules affecting the lawful use of force.

The brief also argues that people suffering from mental illness will be acutely vulnerable to the impact of any decision that extends the principle of immunity for the proximate consequences of unannounced, forcible entries into a home. People with mental illness are more likely to have difficulty comprehending an unannounced entry, and many are likely to react in ways that will prompt officers to feel the need to employ deadly force.  The brief argues that it is important to the safety of people with mental illness that the constitutional framework for excessive force claims not retreat from a totality of the circumstances approach. If a court is focused solely on the moment force is used, with no regard for the preceding circumstances, then force used against such individuals will almost never be deemed unreasonable.

A decision in the case is expected this summer.

U.S. Supreme Court Reverses Lower Court Ruling in Virginia Racial Gerrymandering Case

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision today in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, finding that the trial court used the wrong standard when deciding that race did not predominate in the drawing of 11 of Virginia’s state legislative districts.  The Court has remanded the case back to the trial court for reconsideration.  The 6-2 decision of the Court was authored by Justice Kennedy.  All eight justices concurred that the trial court used the wrong legal standard, but Justices Alito and Thomas disagreed with the majority’s decision to remand the question of whether race predominated — they both would hold that it did without further proceedings.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed an amicus brief in support of plaintiffs in the case arguing that the state’s unnecessary use of race in redistricting fractured African-American communities and packed black voters into as few districts as possible and thus violating the U.S. Constitution.

Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, issued the following statement after the U.S. Supreme Court issued the opinion:

“We are confident that the trial court will recognize that Virginia assigned voters to districts based on their race without justification when the case is reconsidered using the correct legal standard. Today’s decision reaffirms that racially packing legislative districts is unconstitutional and will not be tolerated.  The excessive use of race in redistricting is harmful for all voters.”

The amicus brief filed by SCSJ can be found at bit.ly/Bethune-Hill.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion on the case can be found at https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/15-680_c07d.pdf.

 

SCSJ partners with Florida’s Lee County NAACP on school board redistricting proposal

Voters in Lee County, Florida, passed a referendum in 2014 to expand the school board from five to seven members and move away from all at-large elections in favor of a hybrid system where five of the board members would be elected from districts. The change was intended to diversify the school board, which has been all white since its inception more than 120 years ago yet oversees a rapidly growing public school system in which more than 55 percent of students are minorities.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice has partnered with the Lee County NAACP to present a redistricting plan that is fairer and more representative of the communities that the school board serves. This plan was presented to the school board on February 21. The school board has decided to look into the cost and next steps for pursuing the proposal.

NBC2 out of Ft. Myers covered the meeting and the community’s desire to have fairer representation on the school board.

NBC-2.com WBBH News for Fort Myers, Cape Coral & Naples, Florida

The News-Press also covered the meeting and community support for the redistricting plan.  Click here read their story on the News-Press website.

And Mr. James Muwakkil, President of the Lee County NAACP, submitted an op-ed that ran in the News-Press just days before the presentation.  That op-ed can be found by clicking here.

Voters Fight Back Against Fraud Accusations

Voters Fight Back Against Fraud Accusations

Defamation lawsuit filed in Greensboro, N.C., by voters wrongfully accused of committing voter fraud
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Four voters in Guilford County, N.C., have filed a defamation lawsuit against the individual who accused them of voting without being eligible to do so. In the 2016 general election, at least 85 people across North Carolina were accused of voting in multiple states or being ineligible to vote because of a felony conviction. Not a single one of the accusations was found to be valid.
Recent unsupported claims by President Trump have moved the issue of illegal voting into the national spotlight. At the national level, the rhetoric around this issue has been broad and vague. In contrast, North Carolina voters were called out by name and were publicly accused of committing a crime.
“Today voters are fighting back,” said Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “We want to send the message loud and clear that it is wrong to intimidate voters by accusing them of committing a crime without having any evidence to support the claim.”
“This was personal,” said Karen Niehans, a 74-year-old resident of Jamestown, N.C. who was accused of voting in two states. “My democratic right to vote was challenged. It’s as if someone was saying that I was less than others, that my voice shouldn’t count. That’s just plain wrong to do to someone and I am not going to take it. I want to make sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
Karen and her husband Sam Niehans moved to North Carolina in August 2016 to be closer to family. They are eligible to vote and ultimately had their votes counted after the local board of elections found the challenges to both of their votes to be without merit.
Louis Bouvier of Greensboro, N.C. was also accused of voting in two states.  Unlike the Niehans, Bouvier has voted in North Carolina consistently since 1988.
“My son and I share a name. That’s likely why someone accused me of voting in two states,” Bouvier said. “But it’s a sorry state of affairs when someone can accuse you of a crime without properly vetting or researching the facts.”
Gabriel Thabet of Greensboro, N.C., was accused of not being allowed to vote due to a felony conviction from 19 years ago. However, North Carolinians with a felony record have their rights automatically restored after they have served their sentence and completed parole. His vote was ultimately counted.
“I have spent the last 19 years trying to forget the mistakes that I made as a kid,” Gabriel Thabet said. “I wish that I had never been accused of not being allowed to vote. Just as I had to learn from my childhood mistakes, I cannot change the past but I can help shape the future. I am standing up to make sure other people are not intimidated the way I was.”
In 2013, North Carolina passed a monster voter suppression law.  Although the law was struck down by the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, state legislators used similar baseless claims to cast doubt over our elections process to build support for passing the measure.  There are concerns that the unsupported challenges to voters in 2016 will be used for the same purpose.
“This case is about protecting the rights of every eligible voter to be able to cast their ballot without being intimidated or having to face baseless accusations,” Allison Riggs added.  “Voters are pushing back against vague and unfounded claims of voter fraud being used to drum up support for voter suppression laws. Today is the day that voters fight back.”
A pdf of the lawsuit can be found at http://bit.ly/VoterDefamation
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Statement from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice on President Trump’s Immigration Ban Executive Order

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice joins the individuals and organizations across the country and world condemning President Trump’s recent Executive Order, which imposes severe restrictions on entry into the United States from seven Muslim-majority nations, suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days, and bans refugees fleeing violence in Syria until further notice.   

We believe this kind of discriminatory action hurts all of us. The order is overly broad, antithetical to longstanding American values of religious tolerance and inclusion, and grounded in bigotry and unfounded fears. It fuels the fire of hateful acts that have been committed against people of color and people of all faiths since the election. Since its issuance on Friday, the executive order has caused profound fear and pain in immigrant and refugee communities across the country and world, as well as chaos and indignities in our airports. It is a self-inflicted wound to America’s standing and respect across the world.  

As social justice lawyers, we represent ordinary people of color who have to abide by a patchwork quilt of discriminatory laws that often lead to their mass criminalization and disenfranchisement. We also value our constitutional system of checks and balances and are dismayed by the administration’s blatant disregard for federal court orders. In the United States of America, no one is above the law.  

Immigrants and refugees from all countries and of all religions are valuable parts of the fabric of American society. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice pledges to stand with our refugee and Muslim brothers and sisters throughout the country and the world, today and moving forward. We will continue to demand that America not turn its back on innocent and vulnerable people based on their country of origin or their religious faith.

 

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Continued Discriminatory Discipline Practices in Wake County Schools Prompts Letter to U.S. Department of Education

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 5, 2017 

N.C. Youth Advocates Urge U.S. Department of Education to Address Continued Discriminatory Discipline Practices in Wake County Schools

Recent viral video just a snapshot of ongoing systemic discrimination

RALEIGH, N.C. – A coalition of youth justice advocates called on the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights earlier today, asking the agency to take immediate action to resolve a complaint initially filed against the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) in September 2010 –  2,295 days ago

The complaint itself highlights that this week’s excessive use of force against a Rolesville High School student is not an isolated incident. The viral video of a school resource officer slamming a young girl to the ground is troubling, yet not an uncommon use of excessive discipline for students of color. According to the complaint, Wake County students have been arrested and attacked as a result of throwing water balloons as part of a school-wide student prank tradition,handcuffed and treated like common criminals for infractions as minor as cutting in a school lunch line,2 and been TASED and pepper-sprayed for minor incidents that could have been readily resolved without such violent intervention.3

Further, the complaint alleges that the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) was – and continues to be – engaging in racially discriminatory school discipline practices. Today’s letter urges the federal agency to intervene to end the ongoing discrimination against Black students in Wake County public schools.

“All children deserve to be treated fairly, especially in our schools,” said Peggy Nicholson, Co-Director of the Youth Justice Project at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “However, racial discrimination clearly exists in how students are disciplined in Wake County public schools. We know it and the U.S. Department of Education knows it. It’s time for the federal government to step in and put a stop to the unlawful discrimination that’s happening here.”

Since the filing of the initial complaint in 2010, the coalition has provided seven updates to the Office for Civil Rights documenting the persistent nature of the discriminatory practices.  

“Discriminatory discipline practices have remained virtually unchanged over the past six years. That clearly demonstrates that the problem is systemic,” said Jennifer Story, Supervising Attorney at the Advocates for Children’s Services at Legal Aid of North Carolina. “Not only are we asking for action from the U.S. Department of Education, we are asking for ongoing monitoring to ensure compliance. Otherwise, we run the risk of continuing to allow discrimination and depriving kids of the fairness and opportunities they deserve.” 

Even though Black students consistently represented approximately 25% of the student body during the 2010-11 to 2014-15 school years, data presented in today’s letter to the Office for Civil Rights points out that Black students:

  • Received upwards of 63% of all out-of-school suspensions given to students in the district during that same time period;
  • Received between 64 and 76% of school-based referrals to juvenile delinquency court;
  • Accounted for:  
    • 72% of the 387 high school students referred to adult criminal court;
    • 75% of the 4 middle school students referred to adult criminal court; and,
    • 77% of the 13 alternative school students referred to adult criminal court.

“The system is failing our kids,” said Letha Muhammad, parent and leader of Education Justice Alliance in Wake. “We need help. Our children know that discrimination is wrong and their school system is treating them differently. We need the Wake County Public School System to be held accountable for their discriminatory practices. Right now, students of color are being treated as second-class citizens and that’s not something they deserve or something that we should tolerate.”

Although the school system has made some efforts to address the disparities, the data clearly reveals an obvious pattern of discrimination. In calling for the Office for Civil Rights to address the longstanding complaint, coalition partners are hoping that the agency’s action and monitoring will ensure that Black students are not subject to continued, unlawful discrimination. 

The coalition’s letter the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is attached and can also be found here: http://www.southerncoalition.org/OCRLetter

Citations:

1Hui, T. K. (2013, May 30). Seven Enloe students arrested in balloon-tossing prank. Raleigh News and Observer. Retrieved from http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/05/30/2928310/enloe-students-say-water-balloon.html; Saunders, B. (2013, August 20). Saunders: In Enloe water-balloon case, does punishment fit the crime? Raleigh News and Observer. Retrieved from http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/05/20/2905804/saunders-in-enloe-water-balloon.html

See Knafo, S. (2014, January 24). Teen Handcuffed for Cutting In Line in School Cafeteria: Complaint. Retrieved from http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/4654351.

See Klein, R. (2016, August 11). Set to Stun: Children are being Tasered by school-based police officers. No one knows how often it’s happening or what impact it’s having on students. Retrieved from http://data.huffingtonpost.com/2016/school-police/tasers.

 

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Federal Court Denies State Legislature’s Request to Postpone Drawing Legislative Districts in 2017

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 4, 2017

Federal Court Denies State Legislature’s Request to Postpone Drawing Legislative Districts in 2017

DURHAM – In a unanimous ruling today, a federal court denied the General Assembly’s request to postpone the order requiring new legislative districts to be drawn and elections to be held in 2017. The same court that denied the stay issued the order in November 2016 that calls for new maps and elections. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice represented plaintiffs in the case that challenged the racially gerrymandered state legislative districts.

Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, issued the following statement after the motion was denied:

“We are pleased that the court continues to recognize the harm that will be done to people of North Carolina by electing representatives in districts that are unconstitutional. It’s time for the legislature to recognize that the people of our state deserve to have fair representation and the opportunity to vote in districts that were not racially gerrymandered.”

A copy of the order can be found here: http://bit.ly/CovingtonStay

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