voterIdGraphic2-250x249

How The Fight Against Voting Rights Restrictions Could Decide This Year’s Marquee Senate Race

DURHAM, N.C. — President Barack Obama won North Carolina by just 14,000 votes in 2008. Now, as Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) go head to head in a race that will determine which party controls the Senate, the state’s voter turnout is in question: Will voting rights restrictions passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature dampen Democratic turnout in a year when the president isn’t on the ballot? Or will the restrictions motivate voters instead?

After Republicans gained control of the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the state legislature in 2012, Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed a bill last year which disallowed votes cast out-of-precinct, eliminated same-day registration, reduced the early voting period from 17 to 10 days and got rid of pre-registration for high school students. The legislation also mandated that voters have a government-issued piece of identification to vote in 2016, though not in 2014.

Unless a federal appeals court provides an injunction on Sept. 27, the legislative package will go into effect for November’s elections. Critics of the law say it was aimed at disenfranchising students, seniors and minorities. The package of restrictions was one of the most salient issues during the Moral Monday protests that were provoked by the legislature’s immediate rightward shift.

“This is very much a race about voter motivation,” Ferrel Guillory, founder of the University of North Carolina’s Program on Public Life, told The Huffington Post. He suggested that if voters are angry enough about what Tillis did as a leader in the state legislature on issues like voting rights, Hagan could defy the odds in a tough year for Democratic incumbents and squeak by.

* * * * *
Gunther Peck, an associate professor at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, was arrested at a Moral Monday meeting in Raleigh last summer while protesting the legislative efforts of the state’s general assembly. He and his wife, Faulkner Fox, also a professor at the university, are appealing an initial ruling that found them guilty of second-degree trespassing, failure to disperse on command and violating legislative building rules when they sang inside the legislative building’s rotunda.

Peck, who serves as the faculty adviser for Duke Democrats, said the power of the Moral Monday movement is its ability to energize voters in response to the legislature’s policies.

“It’s not relying on one candidate, it doesn’t have an election cycle to grow or fall to; it’s continuing to galvanize a coalition of people on voting rights, on health care and other issues,” he said.

Peck thought Hagan may indirectly benefit from the Moral Monday movement’s activities, saying they have “re-energized parts of the Democratic base” and “continued to spread across the state.”

“Politically, many of these folks aren’t necessarily big Kay Hagan supporters, but it doesn’t matter,” he added. “They’re going to be turning out the vote — or trying to.”

Though the North Carolina NAACP, which led the Moral Monday movement along with a coalition of other groups, has transitioned to focusing on voter education and registration ahead of the general election, Peck wasn’t sure its efforts could be converted to political ends, even with the charismatic Rev. William Barber heading up the organization.

“They have wonderful moral leadership under Barber, but they’ve had some difficulty translating that into an electoral strategy,” Peck said. “The question is about motivation — which side is more motivated — and that remains to be seen. The NAACP has helped to motivate people, but they haven’t necessarily organized in a statewide fashion.”

* * * * *
At Democracy N.C., a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to increasing voter participation, bumper stickers in the parking lot read “VOTE: It’s not illegal yet!” Organizers broached the possibility that the new restrictions won’t be as harmful as voting rights activists fear in an interview with HuffPost.

“Some are saying that the boot down on people has been so harsh that there may be a backlash,” Bob Hall, the group’s executive director, said last week. “The turnout is not going to be as repressed as it might have been if there hadn’t been the Moral Monday movement organizing, all the groups lifting this up, giving people a sense that you don’t need to give up, there is still hope, there are things you can do.”

Isela Gutiérrez-Gunter, a research associate with the group, explained that it is focused on educating voters about when and where they can vote, and on encouraging them to obtain identification before 2016.

“How do you encourage people to vote without scaring them?” Gutiérrez-Gunter said. “We’re trying to let folks know about the changes to the law in a way that is helpful and practical as opposed to intimidating. It’s a tough line to strike because there’s a lot of anxiety about the voter ID provision going into effect.”

Conservatives argue that the state’s voting laws are “still among the most liberal in the country,” comparing it to the 34 states that also require a government-issued identification to vote, the 31 states that require voters to cast provisional ballots in the precinct where they live and the 39 states that don’t allow same-day registration on election day.

Gutiérrez-Gunter said it is important to remember “what tremendous access voters in North Carolina had” before the restrictions took effect.

Susan Myrick, an elections analyst with the Republican-affiliated Civitas Institute, told HuffPost that the package of restrictions was aimed at cracking down on voter fraud, as those who passed the law claimed at the time.

“Compare [North Carolina] to New York,” Myrick said. “In New York they don’t have early voting, and if you vote by mail you have to have an excuse. Even after these changes, a lot of these [provisions] are fixing things that needed to be fixed.”

Myrick accused groups like Democracy N.C. of being disingenuous, saying that it was concerned about the new package of laws not because it would disenfranchise voters, but because the laws made registering them more challenging.

“They’re turnout organizations, and it does appear to me that they’re thinking about their convenience,” she said. “It would make it much easier for them as organizations to have two and a half weeks to turn out people in person than in a 10-day period.”

* * * * *
At an Aug. 8 hearing before a federal judge, the NAACP’s state chapter, the League of Women Voters and other plaintiffs argued that African-American voters are heavily represented among those who vote early, use same-day registration and accidentally vote out-of-precinct. For instance, in 2012, 70 percent of black voters voted early, and black voters made up 42 percent of those who registered and voted on the same day.

George Eppsteiner, a staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which is representing the plaintiffs in the voting rights suit, said he believed the Republican caucus in the state legislature passed the package of restrictions last year with the intent of restricting access, rather than combating fraudulent voting.

“There’s no doubt that Tillis was in leadership in the conference that passed the law, and certainly our argument is that the law was passed in order to restrict voting access,” he told HuffPost.

“This isn’t a political issue, this is a voting rights issue. Every North Carolina citizen, no matter their background, no matter their race, no matter their ability to pay, should be able to vote for whomever they choose, and that’s not the case right now.”

Back at Democracy N.C., Hall worried the July 2015 hearing won’t produce the result the plaintiffs want if the court is convinced the state still has relatively progressive voting rights laws.

Imagine, he said, that one argues it is unconstitutional and a violation of the Voting Rights Act to get rid of out-of-precinct voting. “The other side will say, ‘Pfft, [North Carolina voters] didn’t have it until 2004, and all these other states don’t even have it. What are you bitching about?'” he said. “And maybe the judge says, ‘Hmm, well you’re right.'” But, he pointed out, African-Americans, who make up 22 percent of registered voters, were 40 percent of those who voted outside of their precinct.

The North Carolina NAACP, Democracy N.C. and the other groups contesting the new voting rights restrictions hope the federal appeals court hearing their injunction request rules that the new laws were intentionally regressive, as Hall characterized them. And as they wait for the verdict later this month, the groups continue their work. But without same-day registration, and with fewer early voting days, time is running out.

By

Posted on Huff Post Politics:
immigrantchildrenap808085

Op-Ed: Some NC counties discourage school enrollment of immigrant children

By George Eppsteiner

September 10, 2014 Raleigh News & Observer

The past few weeks have been marked by several North Carolina municipalities – including the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, Brunswick County Board of Commissioners and most recently the Surry County Board of Commissioners – passing resolutions discouraging undocumented children, including unaccompanied minors, from attending schools in these counties.

Unaccompanied minors are typically defined as children without immigration status who enter the United States without a parent or legal guardian. These children, who often are escaping insurmountable poverty and violence in their home countries, are placed temporarily in the custody of a “sponsor” (often a relative) while they await their fates in the immigration courts.

The intent of these government acts, evidenced by Surry County’s most recent resolution, could not be clearer: Unaccompanied minors are not welcome in these counties. The Surry County Resolution reads that it hopes the U.S. government will “refrain from any unaccompanied minors and adults in Surry County” and that “the influx of school-age minors will have an adverse effect on our local school district.”

From the perspective of a civil rights attorney, such resolutions are immediately troubling. First, the North Carolina Constitution does not allow local school districts and counties to discourage children, no matter their immigration status, from enrolling.

In fact, the state constitution compels state institutions to protect this right. Article 1, Section 15 reads, “The people have a right to the privilege of education, and it is the duty of the state to guard and maintain that right.” Second, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Plyler v. Doe, has declared that school districts may not prevent educational access because of a child’s immigration status. In other words, North Carolina public schools cannot deny a student a place in their classrooms because of their immigration status.

There is a fundamental conflict when elected county officials pass government statements that encourage the exclusion of unaccompanied minors when their school districts are required by law to accept them. School districts in these counties will knowingly or unknowingly violate the federal and state constitutions by considering national origin or immigration status in the school admission process if they follow the guidance of their elected officials.

At first glance, such resolutions may appear to be concerned with public health and safety. What if immigrant children bring communicable diseases into our school systems? However, a more thorough understanding of unaccompanied minors’ entrance into local communities shatters these assumptions. For example, if an unaccompanied minor is detained at the U.S. border, he or she is processed and housed in a detention center. These minors receive immunizations at these centers or in group homes after processing. In any event, school districts are required to have immunization procedures for all students and can treat unaccompanied minors like any other child to enforce their policies.

It is not improper that these statements raise questions about our nation’s immigration policy, but they send an incorrect message that unaccompanied minors may be discriminated against in their respective school districts. Local governments should be mindful of the deep and painful history of discrimination in this state that often culminated at the schoolhouse door. The U.S. Supreme Court was forced to assist in the desegregation of North Carolina’s public schools as late as the 1970s. The history of school discrimination in this state is not ancient history.

These resolutions target the most vulnerable of the voiceless. Unaccompanied minors often have no parents in the United States, little or no English skills and no right to free legal representation at their immigration hearings. Instead of being welcomed into our communities (often briefly while their immigration cases are sorted out), they are being officially “discouraged” from entering the county.

Such resolutions run contrary to the state constitution and the U.S. Constitution. Counties should focus on ways to support inclusion in their communities rather than scoring political points against the most vulnerable.

George Eppsteiner is a civil rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice in Durham.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/09/10/4139734_on-immigrant-children-enrolling.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

vote

NC Voting Rights Challenge Goes To The Next Level

On September 9, 2014 the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Ordered an expedited review of the North Carolina voting rights case brought by the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and other voting rights groups challenging vote suppression measures passed last year by the Legislature. The Court set oral arguments in the case for September 25th in Charlotte. The groups, represented by SCSJ and the ACLU, want to halt implementation of new voting restrictions until a full trial is held on the merits of the changes. The Plaintiffs appealed to the Fourth Circuit after Judge Schroeder denied their request to halt the new voting restrictions until after the full trial next year.

“After Judge Schroeder’s ruling, for this election cycle, there would be no same-day registration, early voting days would be reduced from 17 to 10, and votes cast out-of-precinct would not be counted,” said SCSJ staff attorney George Eppsteiner. “The Court of Appeals has stepped in to review whether these changes should  go into effect before a full trial on North Carolina’s new voting laws is held in 2015. We contend that they should not.”

The previous week in a similar case in Ohio, the trial court granted a preliminary injunction stopping such changes from going into effect for the November 2014 elections in that state.

The Court of Appeals order may be found here.

Judge Schroeder’s August 8, 2014 ruling may be found here.

The Ohio case is Ohio State Conf. of the NAACP v. Husted, No. 2:14-cv-404, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123442 (S.D. Ohio Sept. 4, 2014), available here.

voter ID

“We Couldn’t Eat The Birth Certificate” – the burden of Voter ID for people living in poverty

On September 3, 2014 in Texas, witnesses discussed the hardships of obtaining the state’s “free” voter ID.

According to MSNBC, “Sammie Louise Bates moved to Texas from Illinois in 2011. She wanted to vote last year, but all she had was an Illinois identification card, and under Texas’s strict voter ID law, that wasn’t acceptable. To get a Texas ID, Bates needed a birth certificate from her native Mississippi, which cost $42. That was money that Bates, whose income is around $321 a month, didn’t have.”

“I had to put $42 where it would do the most good,” Bates, who is African-American, testified Tuesday [9/3/14], the first day of the trial over Texas’s ID law. “We couldn’t eat the birth certificate.”

Not everything is bigger in Texas.

Much like North Carolina’s so-called “monster” voter suppression law (rolled out in part this year and which will require a voter to present a valid photo-ID beginning in 2016), Texas’ voter-ID law went into effect shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in its 2013 Shelby County decision. By that time, the Texas law had already been approved, but a federal judge prevented it from rolling out until protections offered by the full Voting Rights Act were eliminated and the law was allowed to go into effect.

In North Carolina, lawmakers in the General Assembly bided their time until just after the Voting Rights Act was effectively hobbled before unveiling their full voter ID bill. At a whopping 49 pages, it is one of the strictest, most comprehensive and regressive in the nation. The bill breezed through both houses in July 2013 and was signed into law by the Governor a month later. The following day the Southern Coalition for Social Justice challenged the North Carolina monster bill in both State and Federal courts. The federal case is League of Women Voters et al v. North Carolina, and the state case is Alberta Currie et al v. North Carolina.

There’s no such thing as a “free” voter-ID

The Alberta Currie case raises many of the same concerns addressed by today’s testimony in the Texas Voter ID case – how do people of limited financial means manage to jump through all of the hoops necessary to obtain even a “free” state-issued photo ID? The named plaintiff, Alberta Currie, is an example of someone who faces insurmountable barriers to obtaining a photo id. Currie is a 78-year-old native of Robeson County who now lives in Cumberland County. She doesn’t have a photo ID and cannot obtain one in North Carolina without a birth certificate. Therein lies the rub. Alberta Currie doesn’t have a birth certificate; she was born at home to a midwife and was never issued one.

No birth certificate? No problem, says the State of North Carolina: the law allows for a work-around for folks like Ms. Currie who don’t have any way to obtain one. All she has to do is have a blood relative attest to being present at her birth. But as she is in her late 70’s, Ms. Currie is running short of living relatives who can so attest. Her one remaining sister lives out of state, has dementia and is thus no longer mentally fit to do so legally.

Ms. Currie is just one example of the multitudes of North Carolina voters who may not have access to state-issued photo ID. In 2012, 318,644 registered North Carolina voters lacked DMV-issued photo IDs with names that matched those found on their voter registration cards according to data collected and posted by the State Board of Elections. A review of this data showed that North Carolina’s voting law will disproportionally burden African Americans, women, young people, and the very poor. Of the nearly 319,000 voters in North Carolina who may not have acceptable identification under the new law, the percentage of white voters exceeds that of African Americans yet African Americans are nearly twice as likely to lack eligible voter-ID in 2016.

Alberta Currie has paid taxes her entire working life, has a social security number, birth certificates for her two children born here, and has produced reliable  and convincing evidence that she is indeed who she says she is. Even if that weren’t the case, however, let’s take a step back and ask ourselves, “how many hoops a person should have to jump through to be deemed worthy to vote?”

We contend the North Carolina Constitution has already described exactly what may be required of a voter to prove they are “worthy” to cast a ballot, and that it was written to guarantee that Alberta Currie and people like her can exercise their fundamental right to vote.

Post by SCSJ Deputy Director Shoshannah Sayers and Researcher Sarah Moncelle

 

Durham_City_Hall

Durham City Council begins spelling out views on police issues

Council begins spelling out views on police issues

This piece first appeared on the Herald-Sun website on Sep. 02, 2014 @ 10:44 PM

Most and perhaps all the members of Durham’s City Council favor asking city police officers to obtain a motorist’s written permission before undertaking a “consent” search of a car or truck.

The apparent consensus – which includes Mayor Bill Bell – emerged Monday as members discussed City Manager Tom Bonfield’s recent report on the Durham Police Department.

Bonfield endorsed requiring written permission for consent searches of buildings, but for vehicle searches proposed leaving it to officer discretion whether or not to get it in writing.

He cited “officer safety or situational control of traffic stops” as reasons to continue practices in that regard.

Bell, however, said he is “not persuaded” that a written-consent requirement would harm department operations.

The mayor noted that police only need consent in the absence of probable cause to believe a crime’s been committed, an arrest or a warrant.

“Barring any of these circumstances, I think a person who’s been stopped by police should be offered an opportunity to sign written consent before a vehicle is searched,” Bell said.

Councilman Eugene Brown said later he agreed with the mayor’s comments, and Councilwoman Diane Catotti said she thought the council can “go further” than what Bonfield had proposed.

Councilman Steve Schewel signaled last month he also favored written consent, and Monday’s meeting saw Councilwoman Cora Cole-McFaddden do likewise.

“Written consent needs to be in place as soon as possible,” she said. “I know it’s legal to do it, and that’s one of the first steps we can take. And we should take that step now.”

Councilman Don Moffitt said he “can support” requiring written consent. Councilman Eddie Davis didn’t address the issue specifically, which by definition means he didn’t voice any disagreement with his colleagues about it.

Davis was alone on the council in alluding to the recent disorder and protests in Ferguson, Missouri, that followed the killing of a black youth by a white police officer.

“We have to make sure we prevent issues here in Durham from escalating to the point they have escalated in the Midwest,” he said.

The written-consent proposal is on the council’s plate because of requests from groups including the local NAACP, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the FADE Coalition that point to large racial disparities in the Police Department’s stop-and-search statistics.

Written consent assures that people in dealing with a search request know their rights, including their right to refuse an officer permission to search, they argue.

The disparities themselves involve blacks being the target of vehicle stops and search requests more often than whites, well out of proportion to their presence in the city’s population.

Bell addressed the associated racial-profiling allegations head-on, saying the department’s figures merit detailed study, perhaps with the help of an independent expert.

“The Durham Police Department says that in carrying out their duties, they do not carry out racial profiling,” Bell said. “The raw statistics, as provided by the Durham Police Department, do not bear that out.”

Moffitt added that Police Chief Jose Lopez’s quarterly public report to the council on city crime statistics should from now on also include stop-and-search data, to assure “transparency and accountability.”

He also said the city needs to publish quarterly reports on the number of complaints about officer conduct made to the department’s Professional Standards Division, along with data on the outcomes of those complaints.

Accompanying that, “I need to know if there are individual outliers in the data,” he said. “If 72 percent of the complaints are about one individual, we need to know and that needs to be in the reports.”

Council members by and large agreed with Bonfield’s assessment that any response to calls from the FADE Coalition and the other groups for a de-emphasis on marijuana-possession enforcement needs buy-in from other players in the criminal-justice system, including Durham’s new district attorney, Roger Echols.

But they made it clear they sympathize with the coalition’s views on the matter. Brown said traditional enforcement tactics in the long run may generate more crime than they quell, by exposing young people to prosecution and jail.

“It is our young people who are really being crucified by this, and it really in my judgment must stop,” he said.

Monday’s discussion stopped short of being the council’s definitive word on the manager’s report, as members agreed they want to discuss in more detail during a work session coming up on Thursday.

For that meeting, “come prepared to decide which of [the manager’s recommendations] you support or don’t support or want tweaked,” Bell told his colleagues, adding that the council has to “bring this to a conclusion.”

Moffitt, however, said the council can’t “change an institution overnight.”

“These issues are going to be ongoing,” he said. “This work is going to go on for a long time.”

Immigrant children in public schools

NC Schools Backtrack on Promise to Undocumented Students

In May 2014 North Carolina Superintendent of Schools June Atkinson made a strong commitment to ensuring access to public education to all of North Carolina’s children, regardless of immigration status, in a letter instructing all schools to accept these students without delay. This groundbreaking letter stated that students cannot be kept out of school because “they are too old” or “they lack credits” or “they lack English language skills,” and schools cannot deny or delay registration while schools validate students’ documents. Atkinson’s May letter came just days after the U.S. Department of Justice – in response to a complaint filed by SCSJ and partner agencies – released guidance on May 8 that also reminds schools of students right to attend public schools without regard to their immigration status.

Now the Department of Public Instruction is backtracking on that promise. In a new letter that replaces the May 2014 directive, Atkinson does not directly address the many obstacles facing Limited English Proficient and/or undocumented students attempting to enroll in public school. Instead, the letter directs schools to read lengthy and complex regulations if they want to know more about how to deal with such students.

In response, SCSJ and our partners, including Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont, the NC Justice Center, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, released a letter to the Department of Justice informing them of the recent changes by the Department of Public Instruction. We have also sent letters to North Carolina school districts outlining precisely what is required by law in order to provide equal access to all children, regardless of immigration status.

“The Southern Coalition for Social Justice believes that all children are entitled to the sound basic education guaranteed by the North Carolina Constitution. It is impossible to see how children can access this constitutional right without access to the public schools charged with providing this education,” said SCSJ staff attorney George Eppsteiner.

SCSJ and our partners will continue to fight for full and equal access to North Carolina public schools for all children, regardless of race, national origin, primary language, disability, or any other factor. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice and our partners will continue to pursue the complaint with the Department of Justice about the struggles of immigrant students to register at K-12 public schools in North Carolina.

Post by Shoshannah Sayers and George Eppsteiner

DACA applicants

Civil Rights Advocates Urge North Carolina Schools to Ensure Access for Immigrant Students

 

Civil Rights Advocates Urge North Carolina School Districts to Ensure Immigrant Students are not Denied Enrollment

Groups Urge Department of Justice to Take Action to Protect Students

WASHINGTON – A coalition of civil rights groups that filed a federal discrimination complaint earlier this year on behalf of immigrant students denied enrollment in North Carolina schools advised school districts of their legal obligations under federal law to provide equal enrollment opportunities for all students.

The groups also urged in a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) today to take action after the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) inexplicably retracted earlier guidance requiring inclusive enrollment policies.

In letters to the school districts, the coalition included copies of recent federal guidance addressing improper enrollment practices that deny, delay or discourage enrollment of students based on their or their parent or guardian’s actual or perceived immigration status, including that of an unaccompanied child – a child who arrives in the United States without a parent or legal guardian and is placed in the care of a sponsor, such as a family member.

In the letter to the DOJ, the civil rights groups cited State School Superintendent June St. Clair Atkinson’s June 4 memo to school districts that outlines various instances where schools may deny enrollment to schoolchildren. The superintendent’s memo retracted an earlier memo DPI had issued on May 12 after working with the civil rights groups that called for nondiscriminatory enrollment opportunities for all students, including immigrant children. The coalition includes the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Legal Services of Southern Piedmont (LSSP), North Carolina Justice Center (NCJC) and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ).

“The actions taken by the Department of Public Instruction are troubling, especially given the vulnerability of many immigrant children, including unaccompanied children, in the state,” said Anjali Nair, SPLC staff attorney. “We are urging the Justice Department to take prompt action to ensure that no North Carolina school official unlawfully turns a child away at the schoolhouse door.”

The groups ask the DOJ to require North Carolina public schools to follow the law by adopting, promoting and enforcing a policy of nondiscrimination against students. A copy of the letter can be viewed here.

The letter to DOJ supplements the federal civil rights complaint the coalition filed in February describing discrimination at two North Carolina school districts. It outlines two incidents in which unaccompanied immigrant children were turned away from school because of their limited English proficiency, age or national origin. The complaint also notes that these incidents appear to be symptomatic of a larger problem in school districts across the state.

“Since originally filing our complaint on behalf of unaccompanied children in North Carolina, the urgency of ensuring access to public education for these children has only increased,” said Mark Bowers of LSSP. “We have seen hundreds of unaccompanied children placed in North Carolina since February. We are now getting a fuller picture of the crisis they are escaping: poverty, violence and exploitation. The stability of school and the support it offers is an opportunity for these children to begin to heal. The mixed messages coming from DPI only put this vulnerable population at more risk of mistreatment and exploitation by enabling school districts to continue to deny or place obstacles to the enrollment of unaccompanied children.”

After the original DOJ complaint was filed, Atkinson sent a memo to school administrators on May 12 that reminded districts that they may not deny enrollment on the basis of a child’s English language skills, age or lack of a certified birth certificate or Social Security number. It even noted that schools “may not ask questions regarding … immigration status.”

This guidance was essentially retracted less than a month later by the superintendent’s June 4 memo.

“The June guidance took away clear language DPI had provided to school districts back in May regarding compliance with federal and state law,” said George Eppsteiner, staff attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “The new guidance is vague, confusing and raises questions as to the seriousness of this agency in assuring nondiscrimination in the enrollment process at North Carolina’s public schools.”

More than 30 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court declared in Plyler v. Doe that it is unconstitutional to deny a child a public education based on his or her immigration status. To ensure that enrollment in public school is not chilled, federal law requires that schools requesting a Social Security number indicate that disclosing the number is voluntary; provide the statutory or other basis upon which it is seeking the number; and explain how the number will be used.

# #  #

The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Alabama with offices in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. For more information, see www.splcenter.org.

Legal Services of Southern Piedmont’s mission is to ensure a full measure of justice for those in need, providing a wide range of civil legal assistance to eligible low-income persons in the Charlotte metropolitan area and west-central N.C. LSSP accomplishes its mission through a variety of legal advocacy strategies including individual advice and representation, community education and outreach, representation of groups, self-help remedies, collaboration with other agencies, community economic development, legislative and administrative advocacy, and impact litigation. www.lssp.org

The North Carolina Justice Center is a leading progressive research and advocacy group. The organization’s mission is to eliminate poverty in North Carolina by ensuring that every household in the state has access to the resources, services and fair treatment it needs to achieve economic security.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is a nonprofit organization founded by a multidisciplinary group, predominantly people of color, who believe that families and communities engaged in social justice struggles need a team of lawyers, social scientists, community organizers and media specialists to support them in their efforts to dismantle structural racism and oppression. For more information, see http://www.southerncoalition.org.

FADE coalition

City Council Decisions On Durham Police Department

This radio interview originally aired on WUNC’s The State of Things on September 2, 2014

City Council Decisions On Durham Police Department

 

The Durham City Council meets about the city’s police department tonight and the alleged racial discrimination by law enforcement.

City of Durham
Credit City of Durham

 

The Durham City Council is expected to take up policy recommendations about the city’s police department tonight. The meeting comes after months of consideration of recommendations from community organizations who allege racial discrimination by law enforcement.The department says such allegations are unfounded.

Host Frank Stasio talks with WUNC reporter Jorge Valencia; Durham city council member Steve Schewel; Durham mayor pro tem Cora Cole-McFadden;  Southern Coalition for Social Justice attorney Daryl Atkinson; and Reverend Mark-Anthony Middleton of the Abundant Hope Christian Church, a congregation of the Durham CAN organization.

(Photo: Andrew Burton, Getty Images)

Court to weigh use of race in drawing political lines

Richard Wolf, USA TODAY 2:49 p.m. EDT September 1, 2014

WASHINGTON — Democrat Quinton Ross has represented a pretty safe district in the Alabama state Senate since 2002, when 72% of its voting-age population was black. In his last two elections, he ran unopposed.

When it came time to redraw the state’s political lines in 2012, however, Republicans who had won control of the state Legislature made it even safer for Ross, an African American. To replace voters who had moved away, they added 14,806 blacks and 36 whites to District 26, resulting in a 75% black majority.

The Legislature’s artistry had the intended effect throughout the state, racially and politically. It solidified the ability of black voters to elect their favored candidates, as mandated by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And it made adjacent suburban and rural districts even more white – and more friendly to Republicans.

“The district was already at a point where you had quite a few blacks,” Ross says. “Sometimes, you can just go overboard.”

Now those maps are headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Alabama Democrats and African Americans will make an unusual request: that black voting strength in majority-black districts should be diluted. When it comes to making about three dozen legislative districts hospitable to black candidates, they say, enough is enough.

The case could affect similar disputes over district lines from Texas to Virginia, where Republicans who now control every Southern legislature have used the Voting Rights Act to their political advantage.

In Florida, a state circuit court judge recently ordered lawmakers to redraw one Democratic and one Republican congressional district and make them less exclusionary, to satisfy a state ban on political gerrymandering. In North Carolina, the state Supreme Court is due to hear an appeal by challengers that maps drawn in 2011 pack blacks in the same manner as Alabama.

“Our claim is you just can’t use race this way,” says Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “Our districts would be less politically polarized if the map drawers can’t use race.”

That’s the real goal of the various challenges, contends Michael Carvin, an appellate lawyer who has defended Republican redistricting plans in the past. This isn’t really about race, he says.

“They’re not trying to enhance minority representation. They’re simply trying to enhance white Democratic representation,” Carvin says. “This is all about politics.”

A SYSTEM OF RACIAL QUOTAS?

Civil rights groups have for decades hailed the Voting Rights Act, in part for helping to elevate blacks to political office. Now they say it’s being used to discriminate against African Americans.

Alabama is a case in point. Before 1970, the state Legislature had no black members. By 1993, there were 27 blacks in the House and eight in the Senate, representing districts ranging from 51% to 82% black.

After those districts lost population during the 1990s, Democrats who controlled the Legislature drew new lines that actually reduced the percentage of blacks in most of them — but not enough to jeopardize incumbents’ re-elections. That gave blacks, who tend to vote Democratic, more clout in surrounding districts.

When Republicans addressed the same situation after 2010, they did the opposite. About 64% of new voters added to those districts were black. And as a result, in most districts that had been only 30% to 50% black, those percentages were reduced.

A divided three-judge panel of the federal district court ruled that the plan did not violate the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act. But in their Supreme Court petitions, the Alabama Democratic Conference and Alabama Legislative Black Caucus say Republicans’ actions in maintaining the same number of black districts with at least the same percentage of black voters constituted a system of racial quotas.

The Democrats’ brief cites what it calls “stark racial intentionality in district-drawing – packing more supermajorities of black voters into already-majority black districts, without regard to whether such efforts were actually necessary in each district to allow black voters to elect candidates of their choice.”

Alabama Solicitor General Andrew Brasher says the Republican Legislature’s plan deserves to be upheld. He contends that race was just one of several factors lawmakers considered, such as protecting the integrity of county lines.

Preserving the ability of white Democrats to win election outside black districts certainly wasn’t among the factors Republicans considered, Brasher says. “What possible reason would the Legislature have had to do that?” he says.

Straddling the middle is the Obama administration, which might have been expected to side with Democrats and African Americans against the Republican Legislature. Instead, the Justice Department urges the justices to send the case back to the district court to decide whether the Legislature relied too much on race on a district-by-district basis.

“Evidence suggests that race may have predominated in drawing some districts” to maintain prior black-white percentages, the government says. “The precision with which the legislature achieved that objective strongly suggests an over-reliance on race.”

SOUTHERN STATES IMPLICATED

The upcoming oral argument, which is likely to be scheduled for November, shows that try as it might, the high court under Chief Justice John Roberts just can’t avoid high-profile race cases.

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” Roberts famously wrote in a 2007 decision striking down school integration plans in Seattle and Louisville.

Yet racial discrimination cases keep coming to the court. In 2013, the chief justice himself wrote the decision striking down a key section of the Voting Rights Act that required mostly Southern states and counties to clear any changes in voting procedures with the federal government.

The Black Caucus challenge is based largely on the Supreme Court’s 1993 decision in Shaw v. Reno, in which a 5-4 conservative majority ruled that districts drawn predominantly because of race must meet a higher standard of review.

That case was critical of a majority-black district in North Carolina that weaved its way along Interstate 85, picking up black voters. But since then, the justices have looked more kindly on several legislative redistricting plans, ruling against Republican challengers in Georgia and Democratic challengers in Texas.

Justin Levitt, an expert on redistricting at Loyola Law School, says Republican legislatures in states from California to South Carolina have drawn districts in much the same way Alabama did.

“That is the playbook,” says David Bositis, a voting rights expert formerly with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. “The Republicans have followed a plan of packing as many black voters into black districts so that the surrounding districts would be white.”

If the Supreme Court strikes down that practice, Carvin says, “It could jeopardize a number of districts throughout the South.”

gavel

State asks court to deny appeal of ruling on voting law

This news piece is in response to the request by SCSJ, on behalf of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, to reverse the August 8 2014 ruling that denied a request to put North Carolina’s strict new voting laws on hold until a full trial can be held on whether the laws are permissible under the Voting Rights Act.

State asks court to deny appeal of ruling on voting law

Blocking North Carolina’s new voting law now would lead to confusion and long lines during November’s general election, state attorneys argue.

The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, the League of Women Voters (represented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice) and others are asking the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., to reverse the Aug. 8 ruling by U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder that denied their request to bar provisions of the law from going into effect for the Nov. 4 election.

Republican legislators passed the Voter Information Verification Act last year. The law’s most publicized provision requires voters to have one of seven acceptable forms of photo identification by 2016.

But other provisions take effect this year. Those include reducing early voting from 17 to 10 days, eliminating same-day voter registration and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and increasing the number of poll observers that each political party can assign during an election.

Three lawsuits have been filed challenging the constitutionality of the law and alleging that it violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A trial on those lawsuits is scheduled for July 2015.

State attorneys argue in court papers filed Tuesday that the state NAACP waited nearly two weeks after Schroeder’s decision to file its appeal on Aug. 25. By filing so late, state attorneys argue, plaintiffs ruined any chances for getting meaningful relief and that overturning Schroeder’s decision would create havoc during the Nov. 4 general election. That election features the high-profile U.S. Senate race between incumbent Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis, the speaker of the N.C. House and one of the main architects of the new law.

The plaintiffs, who include Emmanuel Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, have asked the 4th Circuit to expedite the matter so that oral arguments could be held Sept. 19 and that a decision could be issued in early October.

State attorneys argue in court papers that such an expedited schedule makes no sense.

“Plaintiffs’ request for expedited briefing should be denied because expediting these appeals would be pointless,” state attorneys wrote in the response. “Plaintiffs failed to act with any sense of urgency in light of the looming general election after entry of the Memorandum Opinion and Order. As a result, it is already too late to grant plaintiffs the relief that they seek.”

Attorneys for the NAACP were not immediately available Wednesday for comment.

The state attorneys also argue that it would be nearly impossible to make changes were the 4 th Circuit to overrule Schroeder’s decision. For example, the state attorneys say, same-day voter registration has been done through an application in a comprehensive computer program. But because of the new state law, that application has been disabled.

That means county election officials would have to manually process same-day voter registration and no poll workers have been trained for that, state attorneys argue.

“Manual SDR, if required, will almost surely result in increased wait times during early voting (sic) it is likely that some voters would receive incorrect ballots, and some ballots cast by ineligible voters who fail mail verification after the date for each county’s final canvass would be counted,” state attorneys wrote in court papers.

The state NAACP argues in its appeal that if the provisions of the law are allowed to take effect for November’s election, a large number of people could have their right to vote either limited or denied.

The U.S. Department of Justice, which also filed a lawsuit and sought a preliminary injunction, has not filed an appeal.

This press clipping originally appeared in the News-Record.

Posted: Thursday, September 4, 2014