Mother of Niecey Fennell Speaks Out on Critical Safety Issues at Durham Detention Center


Durham, N.C.
— Attorneys for the family of Uniece “Niecey” Fennell, who was found deceased, hanging in the Durham County Detention Facility (DCDF) in March 2017, have again called upon the Durham County Board of Commissioners to address critical safety issues at the facility in the county’s 2018-19 fiscal budget. Adding to remarks made at a public comment period last week, attorneys at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice released a video of Julia Graves, Niecey’s mother, recounting her experience and the devastation her daughter’s death caused to her family.

Fennell was 16 years old when she was placed in DCDF with adult detainees. Durham County remains one of a small number of jurisdictions in America that continues to house children with adult detainees. It is also one of very few jurisdictions nationwide to have had a child die in its detention facility. The county’s practice of co-housing children and adults directly conflicts with standards adopted by Congress in 2003 with the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). PREA requires total sight and sound separation of adults and children in detention facilities. According to a study by the Equal Justice Institute, children housed with adults are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in adult facilities than when housed in juvenile facilities.

On Monday, June 11, 2018, SCSJ attorneys Ian Mance and Whitley Carpenter spoke on behalf of Julia Graves, Niecey Fennell’s mother, at a public meeting of the Durham County Commissioners. Mance and Carpenter highlighted the County’s slow response to addressing known hanging hazards in the jail, as well as its continued failure to meet critical federal standards designed to ensure the safety of child detainees. In the last 20 years, 22 people have died in the Durham County Detention Facility, the majority of them a result of suicide.

SCSJ continues to advocate that children charged as adults in Durham County need to have their own physical space where they are not subject to threats and bullying from adult detainees.

To view the County Board of Commissioners video featuring the statements made by SCSJ (28:18 to 33:20), a local teacher (33:45 to 33:25), and a student from Niecey’s high school (35:40 to 37:15), click the following link: http://durhamcounty.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=1070

For the full written statement made by SCSJ at the meeting, click the following link: https://www.southerncoalition.org/statement-june-11-durham-county-board-commissioners-meeting/

U.S. Supreme Court Partisan Gerrymandering Ruling’s Impact on North Carolina

WASHINGTON D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court issued opinions on June 18, 2018, in two partisan gerrymandering cases, Gill v. Whitford (Wisconsin) and Besinek v. Lamone (Maryland). The Wisconsin case has been sent back down to the district court to reconsider issues related to standing. The ruling in the Maryland case affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction of a district map before an upcoming election. Both of the rulings can be found at https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/slipopinion/17

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the Campaign Legal Center represent plaintiffs in the North Carolina partisan gerrymandering case that has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In that case, League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho (which has been combined with Common Cause v. Rucho), a federal three-judge panel found the state’s U.S. Congressional plan to be an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander in January 2018 on multiple legal theories of injury.

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 in Gill v. Whitford:

“The U.S. Supreme Court did not define any standard today that would be applicable to determining the merits of a partisan gerrymandering claim. Today’s opinions were largely procedural and indicate the Court’s desire to keep the door open for further discussion about partisan gerrymandering. Multiple statements in the opinions indicate that this practice, when it becomes egregious and discriminatory, crosses the line to become unconstitutional.”

“North Carolina remains the most crystal clear example of why a rule creating limits on partisan gerrymandering is so necessary. The record evidence of constitutional injury presented in our case is overwhelming–legislators intentionally cracked and packed millions of North Carolina voters to silence their political voice. We look forward to the opportunity to argue our case on the merits before the U.S. Supreme Court, where we do not have the same procedural issues that prevented a substantive ruling in the cases decided today.”

Paul Smith, vice president of litigation and strategy at Campaign Legal Center (CLC) who argued Whitford v. Gill at the U.S. Supreme Court, issued the following statement about the Whitford decision after today’s ruling:

“When legislators draw voting maps to favor one party over another and to stay in power, voters no longer have a voice in the political process. Extreme partisan gerrymandering is increasingly getting worse – damaging our democracy and eroding voters’ confidence in our system. We will continue advancing efforts, in this case and others as well as through the political process, to end this practice and safeguard every citizen’s fundamental right to vote and have it count.”

 

More about the League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho:

Like in Whitford v.Gill, plaintiffs in the North Carolina partisan gerrymandering case asked for the same standard to be adopted in their initial complaint filing in September 2016.

Specifically, plaintiffs asked for a three-pronged analysis to determine when partisan discrimination in the redistricting is unconstitutional. That analysis involves a three-part test: (1) showing discriminatory intent; (2) showing discriminatory effect, which can be shown through the use of a measure called the efficiency gap; and (3) showing a map’s imbalance is not justified by a state’s political geography or legitimate redistricting objectives.

In January 2018, a three-judge panel in North Carolina’s Middle District federal court North Carolina’s 2016 Congressional Plan that was adopted in February 2016 violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. It does so by burdening voters’ freedom of speech and freedom to associate based on their political beliefs, as well as, by treating voters unequally by diluting the electoral influence of one party’s supporters.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay in the North Carolina case in January 2018. The lower court’s ruling was put on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court considered Whitford v. Gill and Benisek v. Lamone, a partisan gerrymandering case from Maryland.

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SCSJ Condemns Reduction in Weekend Early Voting Opportunities, Calls for Veto of Changes

Changes target voting options preferred by African-American voters

RALEIGH, N.C. – With the passage of SB 325, the North Carolina General Assembly has approved changes to the state’s early voting procedures whose limitations would likely disproportionately affect African American voters and put greater strain on election resources in rural communities.  The bill mandates that early voting periods end on the Friday before an election, eliminating early voting opportunities on the Saturday before an election — a day on which hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians have cast their ballots in previous elections. It also requires voting sites in a county to have uniform hours — so all sites must be open if any are open, regardless of the frequency of their use.

“We all know — and the legislature knows — that African-American voters make use of the last Saturday of early voting more than other groups,” said Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “We’ve endured this outrageous song and dance before.  Efforts to dilute or undermine the voting strength of African Americans are illegal and undemocratic.  We strongly urge Gov. Cooper to veto this bill.”

In 2014, the most recent midterm election, 103,513 voters — almost 1 in 10 early voters (9.41%) — cast their ballots on the last Saturday of early voting.  In 2016, African American voters, who made up 20.6% of voters in the 2016 general election, accounted for 28.9% of voters on the last Saturday or early voting.

Another provision in the bill requires that any time one early voting site in a county is open, all other early voting sites in that county must also be open. This rigid rule is blind to the facts on the ground and is likely to create a strain on election officials.  Its application can make it prohibitively expensive for officials to offer weekend early voting access and to open an adequate number of early voting sites in a county.  

Local election boards use varied hours to maximize resources and open voting sites in areas and at times that make sense for their communities.  In the 2018 primary, 46 counties offered varied times at satellite sites during early voting in response to demand.  In 2014, the most recent midterm election, 55 counties took advantage of the flexibility provided by the current statute.

“Local election boards and advocates working with their local boards often know best how to make sure their community members have opportunities to vote.  For rural counties in particular, mandating the expensive task of running every county site throughout early voting will lead to fewer early voting locations,” said Riggs.  “Despite the efforts to muddy the water with specious  claims about the need for uniformity, it’s clear that this bill achieves one thing and one thing only: making it harder to for North Carolinians to vote.  Gov. Cooper should demand that voting remains easily accessible for all voters and veto this bill.”

To read the bill language, click here.

SCSJ challenges NC law that punishes returning citizens with felonies for voting while ineligible

On June 8, 2018, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed motions to dismiss on behalf of five clients in Alamance County who were charged with voting while being ineligible due to a criminal conviction.   

In our the motions, SCSJ asks the court to recognize the unconstitutionality of the criminal statute that allows the state to seek a felony conviction against a person who casts a vote in a primary or general election before that person has completed probation and returned to full citizenship. As stated in the motion, the statute (N.C.G.S. § 163-275(5)) “violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, § 19 of the North Carolina Constitution, in that the crime was created on the basis of racial animus with the specific purpose to suppress the votes of African Americans in North Carolina, and it continues to have a disparate impact on the basis of race.” (Motion to Dismiss on behalf of Whitney Brown, p.1).

The full motion can be read at  http://bit.ly/AlamanceMotiontoDismiss

 

On the origins of the crime

Under current North Carolina law, a person who engages in voter intimidation or breaks up an election “by force or violence” commits a mere misdemeanor. However, a person who casts a single vote before being returned to full citizenship commits a felony subject to up to two years of imprisonment. Our state criminal laws have maintained this backward distinction for over a century, because our statutes criminalizing voting have been re-codified virtually unchanged since they were enacted by an openly racist legislature that came to power through voter intimidation and promises to strip the vote from African Americans by all available means.

 Prior to 1900, North Carolina’s Constitution did not expressly exclude those previously convicted of felonies from the right of suffrage. The state also had no poll tax or literacy test. All of this changed with the Suffrage Amendment ratified in 1900 and the general election law passed the following year. These changes to state law, which included the enactment of the statute under which Ms. Brown has been charged came after an open campaign to disenfranchise an emergent African American electorate and install White Supremacy in North Carolina.

In its 1898 party handbook, the Democratic Party estimated with alarm that a third of this state’s 360,000 votes were cast by African Americans. The handbook declared that it was “the special mission of the Democratic Party to rescue the white people of the east from negro domination.” Among the evils the party claimed it needed to guard against was the threat of African Americans registering those who were ineligible due to criminal convictions. This was seen as a particular threat because African Americans “had not those qualities of easy identification which the white man possesses” and had a “roving disposition.”

There was widespread voter intimidation during the electoral campaign of 1898. Bands of armed men known as Red Shirts rode on horseback through African American communities, particularly in southeastern North Carolina, to intimidate voters. The strategy worked, and the Democrats captured complete control of the General Assembly. The new legislature changed the state constitution, restricted the right to vote, and defined several “infamous crimes” based on casting an illegal vote.

In 1900, the General Assembly ratified a Suffrage Amendment to the state constitution that add a restriction specifically prohibiting those convicted of certain crimes from voting unless they “restored to citizenship.” The same amendment instituted both the literacy test and poll tax. The literacy test contained an exemption for the descendants of any person who was eligible to vote on or prior to January 1, 1867 – exempting White citizens who could vote in the time of slavery.

After passage of the Suffrage Amendment, the General Assembly ratified an elections law that provided detailed regulations regarding the literacy test and other voter suppression devices. The 1901 law also defined several voting crimes, including the this one:

Sec. 71 If any person be challenged as being convicted of any crime which excludes him from the right of suffrage, he shall be required to answer any question in relation to such alleged conviction; but his answer to such questions shall not be used against him in any criminal prosecution, but if any person so convicted shall vote at the election, without having been restored to the right of citizenship, he shall be guilty of an infamous crime, and punished by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, or imprisoned at hard labor, not exceeding two years, or both.

The act also made it an “infamous crime” to knowingly register in the wrong location or to “illegally vote” in any election.  At the same time, the act made it a misdemeanor to break up an election “by force and violence” or to “injure, threaten, oppress or attempt to intimidate any qualified voter of this State.” This dichotomy, in which voter intimidation constitutes a misdemeanor while casting a vote improperly is a felony, persists in North Carolina law in 2018.

Since its enactment in 1901, the only tweak to the language of the crime at issue in this case came in 1931, when the General Assembly made the wording more concise and replaced the term “infamous crime” with “felony.” From 1931 to the present, not one syllable of the definition of the crime of voting while ineligible due to a prior criminal conviction has changed. Along with the other surviving felonies from the 1901 law, the crime of voting while ineligible due to a prior criminal conviction has become a Class I felony under North Carolina Structured Sentencing. A conviction can result in as much as two years’ imprisonment. N.C.G.S. § 15A-1340.17.

 

On the continued disparate impact

The racially disparate impact of the law criminalizing voting before restoration of full citizenship after a criminal conviction persists to this day. In 2016, African Americans were nearly 53% of the prison population in this state. In the same year, African Americans comprised an estimated 21.5% of the total population of North Carolina.  Thus, African Americans are more likely to be disfranchised as the result of felony convictions and thus more likely to unintentionally run afoul of § 163-275(5) (2016), which has no express requirement of knowledge or fraudulent intent.

The prosecution of Whitney Brown in Alamance County, as well as other returning citizens, follows the law’s long tradition of a racially disparate impact. On a statewide basis, people identified as “Black” in the voter registration records constituted 290 of the 411 persons listed in the State Board of Elections’ 2016 Audit Report as having allegedly voted in violated of § 163-275(5) – 68.08% of the total when those who did not designate their race are excluded. By contrast, people identified as “White” comprised only 30.75% of the total.

This stark disparity becomes even greater in Alamance County, where the State has indicted twelve individuals for the alleged act of voting in the 2016 general election in violation of N.C.G.S. § 163-275(5). Ms. Brown and eight others – 75% of those facing a possible felony conviction – are African American. The law imposing a potential felony conviction for the act of voting before returning to full citizenship after criminal conviction functions exactly as the 1901 General Assembly intended: as a tool to punish, suppress and discourage voting by African Americans.

The statute at issue, N.C.G.S. § 163-275(5) (2016), was enacted for the express purpose of disfranchising African American voters, and continues to have a disparate impact on African American voters both statewide and in Alamance County. The racially invidious application of this law renders it unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment and Article I, § 19 of the North Carolina constitution. 

 

SCSJ Statement Regarding Proposed North Carolina Voter ID Constitutional Amendment

RALEIGH, N.C. – On June 7, 2018, North Carolina Speaker of the House Rep. Tim Moore introduced HB 1092, a constitutional amendment that would require voters in the state to present photo identification before voting.  If the legislation passes both chambers of the General Assembly by a three-fifths margin, the amendment would go on the November ballot.
North Carolina held one election (the May 2016 primary) with a requirement for voters to show photo identification after the General Assembly passed HB 589 in 2013.  In that one election, many eligible North Carolina voters were unduly burdened and disenfranchised.
House Bill 589, including a photo identification requirement for voters, was struck down in July 2016 by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  In its decision, the Fourth Circuit found that the law, which included other elections changed that would predominantly impact voters of color, was intended to “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision” for exclusion from the political process.
After the introduction of HB 1092Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the attorney who successfully argued the case against the 2013 Monster Voter Suppression Law in the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, issued the following statement:
“It’s unfortunate that legislators think that they can hide another unconstitutional voter suppression effort by putting it on the ballot as a constitutional amendment and trying to trick voters into doing their dirty work for them.  A federal court found their previous scheme to require photo ID and limit voting access were blatant attempts to disenfranchise voters of color.  What was filed today is no different.  This is an obvious effort to implement a policy that has been shot down as being racially discriminatory.”
“Just as when the legislature tried this in 2011 and 2013, we know that thousands of eligible North Carolina voters lack photo identification.  These voters are disproportionately voters of color, elderly voters, women, and voters with physical challenges.  The legislature continues to intend the effect of its voter suppression efforts–the exclusion of these groups of North Carolinians from accessing their fundamental right to vote.”
Scissors cutting red tape over a drivers license with city of Durham in background

Press Release: Civil Rights Groups Sue North Carolina DMV For Revoking Driver’s Licenses of People Who Cannot Pay Traffic Tickets

Taking licenses from people who cannot pay violates the U.S. Constitution, lawsuit says

RALEIGH, N.C. –The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has revoked the licenses of hundreds of thousands of people simply because they cannot afford to pay traffic fines and court costs. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of North Carolina and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice are suing to end the practice, which funnels low-income people further into poverty, in violation of their  due process and equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The North Carolinians impacted by this punitive scheme are stripped of their ability to support themselves and their families, as drivers’ licenses are crucial to securing and maintaining employment, driving children to school, and obtaining basic needs. The federal lawsuit challenges the DMV’s automatic revocation of driver’s licenses without providing proper notice and hearings to ensure that people who cannot afford fines and costs will not lose their license.

“No one should have to live with the burden of their license being revoked, and all the expenses that come with that, simply because they don’t have any money,” Plaintiff Seti Johnson said. “I’d previously fallen behind on my rent and sacrificed the needs of my children just to keep my license. I cannot afford to do that again. This has to stop.”

The DMV’s unlawful license revocation stems from a North Carolina statute that requires the automatic revocation of licenses for nonpayment of a traffic ticket 40 days after a court judgment.  But the law does not require a hearing before revocation to ensure that a person punished under the statute is actually able to pay. U.S. Supreme Court precedent makes it clear that inability to pay must be considered before punishing a person for nonpayment of a court fine.

“I just want a fair chance to take care of my family,” Plaintiff Sharee Smoot added.  “I can’t afford to pay the tickets right now, but that shouldn’t prevent me from having a driver’s license.”

Sam Brooke, deputy legal director for the SPLC, said: “The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles unconstitutionally punishes people by taking away their driver’s licenses simply because they cannot afford to pay their traffic tickets, without due process or any regard for their ability to pay. It’s predatory and puts thousands of individuals with low incomes at risk. A license permits physical mobility and enables economic transcendence. Taking licenses away from those most in need is not just illegal, it is also counterproductive and heartless. We are suing to end this unjust practice.”

More than 15 percent of North Carolina residents live in poverty. North Carolina’s practice of revoking licenses for nonpayment without ensuring ability to pay disproportionately harms people of color due to longstanding racial and ethnic gaps in poverty and wealth.

“North Carolina’s unjust traffic fine collection scheme has created a two-tiered system of justice where people charged with the same traffic offense are punished differently based on how much money they have,” said Cristina Becker, criminal justice debt fellow for the ACLU of North Carolina. “Those who can afford to pay their traffic tickets get to keep their license, while those who cannot have their license revoked, making it harder to find and keep a job and take care of their families. North Carolina is denying a basic necessity – having a driver’s license – to hundreds of thousands of residents simply because of their economic standing, trapping countless people in a cycle of poverty. This unfair and unconstitutional system must end.”

Laura Holland, criminal justice attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said: “The consequences of losing a driver’s license can be devastating for low-income families in North Carolina. People facing fines for a traffic offense, with low or no income, are often forced to choose between paying fines to prevent their licenses from being revoked or using that money for food, housing and health care. When a person whose license is revoked cannot afford to pay, they are faced with a choice between losing their jobs because they no longer have a license to drive to work, or driving with a revoked license and risking further penalties.”

When the DMV receives notice that a person has not paid a traffic fine or cost, it enters a license revocation order that becomes effective 60 days after mailing or personal delivery to the motorist. The notice does not explain that, if a motorist cannot pay, they can petition for a hearing to keep their license. The notice indicates that the only way to restore a revoked license is to pay all outstanding traffic fines and court costs in full.

Johnson, a Black father of three, had to choose between paying traffic fines and supporting his children. After a routine traffic stop last summer in Cabarrus County, he was surprised to learn that his license had been revoked for unpaid traffic tickets. He was forced to use his rent money to pay off the more than $700 he owed to reinstate his license.

Johnson’s license was reinstated, but not before he received a separate traffic ticket for driving with a revoked license. The charge was later reduced, and the court ordered him to pay a $100 fine and $208 in court costs. He was able to pay $100, but couldn’t pay more, and was assessed an additional $20 fee because he couldn’t pay in full that day. Without a job, he struggled to pay the remaining amount. The fees were due on May 22, and Johnson fears that he will lose his license again.

Smoot is a single Black mother struggling to support her daughter on a low income. She lost her driver’s license in 2016 when she could not afford to pay a traffic fine. Every day, she faces an impossible choice between driving illegally to work and losing her job.

The plaintiffs seek a court order declaring that North Carolina’s law and the DMV’s practice of revoking driver’s licenses are unconstitutional. The plaintiffs also seek an injunction to prevent the DMV from revoking licenses for nonpayment without first providing hearings to determine whether motorists willfully did not pay. They also seek to prevent the DMV from revoking licenses without sufficient notice of options other than payment, to prevent those who cannot afford to pay from having their licenses revoked. The suit also requests an injunction that would require the DMV to restore any licenses that were revoked solely for nonpayment.

To read the official filing, click on the following link: https://www.southerncoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/nc_drivers_license_complaint.pdf

Press Release: Voters Urge U.S. Supreme Court to Agree that North Carolina Congressional Map is an Unconstitutional Partisan Gerrymander

WASHINGTON – Plaintiffs in North Carolina’s partisan gerrymandering challenge, League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho, filed a motion with the U.S. Supreme Court today asking the court to affirm the lower court’s ruling that found the entire state’s plan to be an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. In February, the Supreme Court denied expedited briefing in the case, but it still has the ability to affirm the district court’s decision and to order fair maps drawn in the state soon thereafter.

The Campaign Legal Center (CLC) the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ), and University of Chicago Professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos represent plaintiffs in the case. They jointly filed the brief on behalf of their clients, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and 12 individual North Carolina voters.

A PDF of the motion can be found at http://bit.ly/LWVAffirm

“The district court unanimously and correctly found that North Carolina lawmakers manipulated the state’s congressional voting maps to lock in their own political party’s power, with little regard for the will of voters,” said Paul Smith, vice president at CLC, who argued CLC’s landmark partisan gerrymandering case out of Wisconsin, Gill v. Whitford, before the Supreme Court on October 3. “North Carolina has one of the most severely gerrymandered maps in modern American history. North Carolina voters have endured three election cycles with a skewed congressional map. The Supreme Court must affirm the lower court’s ruling, because even a single election under an unconstitutional map is one too many.”

“The congressional maps drawn in North Carolina would be unconstitutional under virtually any meaningful legal standard the court adopts,” said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “We are hopeful that the court will recognize the glaring unconstitutionality of the plan and affirm the lower court’s ruling.”

Evidence presented at trial in 2017 demonstrated that the Republican plan to use political data in drawing this map to gain partisan advantage worked exactly as expected. In the 2016 election, Republican congressional candidates in North Carolina won ten out of thirteen seats, even though the statewide vote was nearly tied and North Carolina is a purple state. An expert that examined the map determined that the North Carolina plan exhibited the largest partisan bias of any congressional map in the country.

This term, the Supreme Court will decide CLC’s case challenging Wisconsin’s state assembly map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. CLC and co-counsel represent 11 Wisconsin voters in the landmark case, Gill v. Whitford. The federal district court in North Carolina applied the same tests for measuring partisan symmetry as were applied in the Wisconsin case, indicating that there is a manageable way to consistently measure what constitutes an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

 

Read more about the case League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho.

SCSJ at the U.S. Supreme Court

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice hit a milestone this week. Allison Riggs, our Senior Voting Rights Attorney, argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Abbott v. Perez is a redistricting case out of Texas where voters of color were either packed or cracked into districts to minimize their political power. It was wrong. It was intentional. And we are proud to represent the Texas NAACP in the case.

 

SCSJ signed onto to Abbott v. Perez (formerly Perez v. Perry) in 2011, when it became clear that the Texas legislature’s redistricting plan was going to disenfranchise communities of color.  At the Supreme Court, Allison Riggs argued two main points: that the Supreme Court did not yet have proper jurisdiction in the case, and jurisdiction issues aside, it’s clear that the district lines drawn in Texas intentionally discriminated against communities of color.

 

This moment is a milestone for SCSJ.  For over a decade now we have partnered with community groups to seek justice throughout the south.  And it’s now clear that we are capable of standing before the highest court in the land – with partners and justice on our side – demanding that we live up to our ideals of having equal justice under the law.

 

NC Policy Watch reporter Melissa Boughton profiles Allison’s argument and SCSJ’s rise in the voting rights world in her recent story “A familiar face in DC: rising SCSJ voting rights attorney argues first case at SCOTUS”.

 

To read more about the case, please visit https://www.southerncoalition.org/abbott-v-perez/

 

Also, here are a few news clips from this week’s hearing:

 

New York Times (link) – Allison Riggs quoted

Washington Post  (link) – Allison mentioned

SCOTUSblog (link) – Allison quoted

Houston Public Media (link) – Allison quoted

 

 

 

 

Press Release: Voters File Federal Court Challenge to Voter Intimidation Efforts in Virginia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 12, 2018

Contact:

Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, dustin@scsj.org, 919.323.4051

Mackenzie Long, mlong@wearerally.com, 916.524.3197

 

Voters File Federal Court Challenge to Voter Intimidation Efforts in Virginia

Voter intimidation violates Ku Klux Klan Act, created in 1871 to protect voters
from being harassed when attempting to register or vote

 

ALEXANDRIA, VA – Voters subjected to intimidation efforts and false accusations of illegal voting in Virginia filed a federal lawsuit today, citing violations of the Ku Klux Klan Act and the Voting Rights Act, as well as state defamation laws. The suit was filed in Virginia’s Eastern District federal court. Plaintiffs include the Richmond Council for the League of United Latin American Citizens, as well as four individual voters who were recklessly accused of committing election-related crimes in reports published by the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF). The defendants in the case are PILF and J. Christian Adams, the organization’s President and General Counsel.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Protect Democracy represent plaintiffs in the case, along with the law firm of Emery Celli Brinkerhoff and Abady LLP and pro bono attorneys.

“The law guarantees that all eligible Americans may participate in elections free from intimidation or libel,” said Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “It’s troubling that there’s a growing pattern of voter intimidation across the country that targets everyday, private Americans with tactics that bully them and discourage them from registering to vote and casting a ballot for the candidate of their choice.  Such bullying damages the foundation of our democracy and represents the kind of voter intimidation that civil rights laws are designed to eradicate.”

Plaintiffs’ claims relate to two reports released by PILF: Alien Invasion in Virginia and Alien Invasion II. The first report was published in September 2016 and accuses voters of committing multiple felonies, from illegally registering to vote, to casting an ineligible ballot. The follow-up report, accusing even more voters, was released in May 2017.

“Defendants were wildly reckless in the statements they made about our clients.  They should have known that the people they were accusing of felonies were, in fact, eligible voters,” said Andrew G. Celli, Jr. and Alanna Kaufman of the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP.  “Our clients have committed no crime.  Their names have been smeared and their personal contact information spread widely. This is a modern, covert, and insidious effort to intimidate voters.  It must be remedied.”

The lawsuit asserts that defendants’ conduct  “violates both the Voting Rights Act, see 52 U.S.C. § 10307, and the Ku Klux Klan Act, see 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), because it intimidates constitutionally eligible voters, like Plaintiffs, into not exercising their right to vote.” (p. 5, LULAC of Richmond v. Public Interest Legal Foundation)

“Regardless of whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, the importance of protecting Americans’ right to vote free of intimidation should be something that all Americans can agree on,” said Cameron Kistler of Protect Democracy.  “Our democracy depends on it.”

The complaint in LULAC of Richmond v. Public Interest Legal Foundation can be found at  https://www.southerncoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/LULAC-of-Richmond-v.-PILF.pdf

 

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The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is a non-partisan legal organization that partners with communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities in the south to defend and advance their political, social and economic rights.

 

Protect Democracy is a non-partisan organization dedicated to preventing our democracy from declining into a more authoritarian form of government.

 

Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP is a litigation boutique that focuses on civil rights, commercial, criminal, and ethics matters.

The State of Discipline in NC Schools

Highlights from The 2018 State of Discipline Report

The data analysis from the Youth Justice Project found that:

  • Although out-of-school suspension is down, students are still too often removed from class for disciplinary reasons.
  • Tens of thousands of young children were suspended last school year.
  • Black students were more likely to be suspended than white students.
  • There is not enough information about the impact of School Resource Officers.

While some individual schools and districts are taking steps to address the issues outlined in the report, the Youth Justice Project calls for immediate and bold action at the state level. The report outlines several policy recommendations that include:

  • banning out-of-school suspensions for early grades,
  • mandating data collection and reporting for school-based interactions with police, and;
  • prioritizing racially equitable discipline policies.

The full report can be found at southerncoalition.org/sodreport2018.

Interactive report below: