Wake Voters Sue Over New County Commission Districts

For Immediate Release                                                                                                    Contact: Beverley Clark, 919-247-4207

Anita Earls, 919-794-4198,


Wake Voters Sue Over New County Commission Districts

Voters in overpopulated districts claim the districts make their votes count for less and that district 4 is a race-based district


RALEIGH, NC (April 9, 2015) – Today the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association, and fifteen individual Wake County voters, filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the districts adopted by the North Carolina General Assembly to be used for the Wake County Board of County Commissioners beginning in 2016 are unconstitutional under the federal and state constitutions.

The Plaintiffs contend that the districts approved by the General Assembly on April 2, 2015 failed two constitutional tests:

  • One-person, one-vote violation: Election districts must be approximately the same size in population so that every voter’s vote will carry the same weight. Voters who live in over-populated districts have less say in their government than voters in smaller districts.  The lawsuit claims that the wide population disparities among the districts are unconstitutional because they are based on the desire to favor one party over another and the desire to favor rural and suburban voters at the expense of urban voters.  The new law creates deviations of 9.8% and 7.11%, when it is possible to draw such districts with deviations of .02% and .33% respectively.
  • Excessive use of racial criteria: Even though there is a long history African-Americans being elected at-large to the Wake County Board of County Commissioners, the new plan creates a majority-black district, District 4, that is highly irregular in shape and splits ten precincts. The lawsuit claims this district is an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.

The Districts were drawn and approved by Republican state legislators over the objection of the sitting county commissioners, four of whom are Democrats elected last fall.  “This litigation is about the fundamental American proposition that when voters live and vote in districts, those districts should be relatively compact, and the population divided equally,” said Plaintiff Beverley S. Clark, a resident of the over-populated District 3 in the new plan.  “It is undemocratic for the General Assembly to randomly use its power to make district changes without any compelling reason or any new census data.”  Plaintiffs also cite the failure of the General Assembly to adopt a plan proposed by Representative Gill that had equal sized, regular shaped districts using whole precincts, and that didn’t divide voters by race.  The General Assembly could have adopted a more balance option, or put the districts to a vote of the people.  The failure to pursue these options shows that there were illegitimate and unconstitutional motivations behind the plan.

Dr. Earl Johnson, President of the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association, whose members live in the affected districts, stated “The new election plan passed by the General Assembly is likely to result in people having less, not more, connection with their elected representatives.  Right now voters have a voice in electing all seven members who must be accountable to them, under the new plan each voter will have just two commissioners representing them, who can ignore them because the gerrymandered districts give them safe seats. This was a partisan power grab that cannot withstand neutral review.”

The Plaintiffs are represented by Anita Earls of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.  View the Complaint here.

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U.S. Supreme Court declines to immediately hear N.C. voting law case

The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to immediately hear an appeal in a case challenging the state’s 2013 voting law, where the lower appeals court ruled that the state’s attempt to end same day registration and out of precinct voting likely violated the Voting Rights Act.  That denial means that those issues, along with other challenged elements of the 2013 law that make voting harder, will all be considered together in July 2015 when the case goes to trial in federal district court in Winston-Salem, N.C.  Those other elements include the cut to early voting and the photo ID requirement, among others.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice had asked the Supreme Court not to grant certiorari in the case at this stage, and to instead allow the issues to be heard and decided together in district court this summer.

The denial of certiorari by the Supreme Court follows a ruling of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which voted 2-1 in October 2014 to grant a preliminary injunction upholding North Carolina voters’ access to same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting until the case could be heard in district court. In October, the Supreme Court stayed the injunction, citing concerns about proximity to the November 2014 general election, and as a result same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting were not available to voters during that election. North Carolina’s next elections are scheduled to take place in fall 2015, for municipal offices.

Background: North Carolina passed a restrictive voting law in August 2013. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice and others have challenged provisions of the law that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit out-of-precinct voting. The groups charge that implementing these provisions would unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act.

North Carolinians use early voting in vast numbers. During the 2012 election, 2.5 million ballots were cast during the early voting period, representing more than half of all votes cast. More than 70 percent of African-American voters utilized early voting during the 2008 and 2012 general elections. Eliminating same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting also imposes hardship on voters.

In recent elections, North Carolinians could register, or update their registration information, and vote in one trip to an early voting site. In both 2008 and 2012, approximately 250,000 people did so. African-Americans disproportionately relied on same-day registration in both elections. The new law eliminates this opportunity to register, effectively disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters.

The case, League of Women Voters of North Carolina et al. v. North Carolina et al., was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.

The Marshall Project

Words matter: the importance of humanizing criminal justice vocabulary

Inmate. Prisoner. Other. Discussed.

What to call incarcerated people: Your feedback

We received more than 200 responses to our callout asking the best way to refer to people behind bars. Of the options we offered, 38 percent preferred “incarcerated person,” 23 percent liked “prisoner” and nearly 10 percent supported use of the word inmate. Thirty percent selected “other” (“person in prison,” “man or woman,” “the person’s name.”)

Here is a sample of the responses (some of which have been edited for length or clarity).


I don’t like the term – I was one once – but at least this term is localized to the actual incarceration event and allows someone to move past it once they are released…. – Robert Pelshaw

“Inmate” is concise and accurate without being pejorative…Arguably, “inmate” is more versatile than “prisoner,” because it includes people who are confined to institutions other than prisons, such as psychiatric hospitals, and immigration detention centers. –Lindsay Beyerstein

Nomenclatures are important and exist to clarify the world around us…my preference is to keep the terms simple while simultaneously remembering that there is a human being on the flip side of that word. – Trish Navaratnasingam

Just as you might refer to someone by their occupation, “an attorney, a writer, a teacher”, while a person is in prison, they are “an inmate”….I am a retired state prison warden, and “inmate” is the term staff and inmates used. – Sherry Davison

For me the word inmate is not synonymous with criminality…Inmate suggests people confined within a dwelling, and for me, nothing more than that…For perspective: I worked at Reeves County Detention Center III as a correctional officer from 2006-2008. – Ashley Moya

As a journalist and convicted felon, I think a lot about the power that language has to redeem or condemn. Like a lot of reporters, I try to be thoughtful about the way I describe people, especially when I’m writing about marginalized groups. But on a personal level, I don’t care much about whether someone labels me a felon, ex-con, or formerly incarcerated person — whatever…If someone asks, I get right down to it: “I was convicted of a felony. I sat a year in jail for a burglary.” See? When facts are stated frankly, labels have much less power…I appreciate being thoughtful about the labels we apply. But the question here seems more of a concern for the advocates or social worker — less so for the convicted felon looking forward to having his civil rights restored. – Mario Koran

Incarcerated person

As a formerly incarcerated person, the term inmate feels disparaging. We were often called this by officers with a tone of disgust. I think it’s important to use the term incarcerated person, however clunky, because it is so easy to forget that we are talking about people when we use words like inmate or prisoner. – Jacqueline Conn

I have had both experiences as a criminal defense attorney and an incarcerated woman. Prior to my incarceration, in the role as a defense attorney, I recognized the immediate devaluing of a person as a human being as soon as they encountered any aspect of the criminal justice system…While in prison, part of the dehumanizing programming is the use of the word inmate. You are referred to as inmate 27402-038, for example, and relegated to an underclass referred to as “the inmates”. It stays with you, creating a public and subconscious persona that is far removed from a person’s true identity. Inmate is a term used to reduce human qualities, separate and disparage… – Andrea James

Mass criminalization has pushed us to the point where one out of every three adults in the US have a criminal history record (arrest or conviction for a felony or a misdemeanor). That is an awful lot of people to simply relegate to their criminal justice status. They are first and foremost people. – Alan Rosenthal

As a public defender I know that many of the folks who are incarcerated aren’t guilty, aren’t criminals. I don’t like the label. Because they are more than that, they are people, someone’s people, my people. – Chantá Parker

It would be ridiculous to label each of us based on the worst moments of our lives. It’s equally ridiculous, and cruel, to make people forever bear labels that define them first and foremost as their crime. – Katherine Katcher, Founder & Executive Director, Root & Rebound: Reentry Advocates Berkeley, CA

The criminal justice system is meant to–or purports to–keep our society safe. If that is truly our objective, we should do everything within our power to ensure that it works towards those aims without creating (or perpetuating) a permanent class divide. Inmate, felon, and prisoner are just the latest epithets in a long and ugly history. – Jonathan Stenger

When I worked as summer law clerk at the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on a team prosecuting 7 men ultimately convicted for the mass killing of over 3000 Muslim men and boys, we were asked to research what enabled the generals to get soldiers to carry out a slaughter such as this…Turned out, one of the most important steps was to rename the victims in the months (even years) preceding the mass murder. To get society in the habit of calling the group you’d like destroyed anything other than people is step one. It is a tactic of war and a tactic used to support genocidal acts. That is why, respectfully, I’m casting a strong vote in favor of “incarcerated person” and making an appeal that The Marshall Project and others steer clear of the dangerous words that dehumanize and make people invisible and dispensable. – Gina Clayton

Because I am not a status, I am a person and a human being. The labels are usually being used to my disadvantage and dehumanize me. It makes torturing and killing me much easier to do. Just think the next time you see one of us laying dead in the middle of the street and see how easily our deaths are excused by status, label, and history. I believe the current language makes the practice of racism and supremacy appear to be neutral. – Dorsey Nunn

When describing someone who is currently serving time in prison, we at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights believe that “incarcerated person” is the best term, but only insofar as the discussion is actually related to their incarceration. One of the problems with our criminal justice system is the pervasive belief that people serving time are no longer a part of our communities. Dehumanizing language like “convict,” “inmate,” “felon,” or “prisoner” only serve to reinforce the belief that such a division exists, which can lead to stripping people in prison of their fundamental human rights, like the right to vote, to have healthcare, and to see their families. – Zachary Norris

Formerly incarcerated people taught me about how such language is preferable even to “prisoner,” which is what I’d been taught to use in my prior advocacy work in the 1990s / early 2000s as an alternative to “inmate.”…The state intentionally creates systems to dehumanize the people whom it imprisons as a strategy to make it easier to abuse power and exert control over people. The public is less likely to become outraged about human rights abuses against people in jails, prisons, detention centers, juvenile facilities, etc., if the people they are abusing are not seen as people (or as brothers, sisters, siblings, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, cousins), but rather as inmates, detainees, felons, sex offenders, rapists, addicts, etc. etc. – Andrea Bible

The problem is not just that this language is dehumanizing, as Eddie Ellis and so many others who have been called these words so persuasively insist. It is also that this language is inaccurate because it is incomplete: the elements about a person’s identity that it excludes are entirely relevant to our understanding and decision-making about what to do when that person has broken the law or causes harm…What we need is a criminal justice policy for *people* who commit crime—incarcerated *people*, *people* with felony convictions, *people* on parole, even *people* who have caused great harm and should be held meaningfully accountable. Any truly effective policy solutions will make central the humanity of everyone directly impacted by crime—including those who commit it. It is true, as you put it on your website, that “storytelling can be a powerful agent of social change.” The scale of change that is called for in this arena is significant enough that it not only demands new content, but new words. It is time to start talking about people. When we do, our language will reflect the humanity of those we describe, and we, too, will be humanized in the process. –Danielle Sered, Director, Common Justice, Vera institute of Justice


Convict is too archaic, while “inmate” is a term once used for mental patients in asylums (and is often considered a derogatory term among prisoners). The correct term for people in jail who have not been convicted is “pre-trial detainee.” “Formerly incarcerated person” is just getting too PC and putting form before substance. As a former prisoner myself, I don’t want to be known as a “FIP.” –Alex Friedmann, Prison Legal News

Inmate implies mental infirmity such as an inmate in a mental hospital. The person is being held in a prison and is therefore a prisoner regardless of how or why they are there. As a former prisoner myself, sentenced to 25 years for smuggling marijuana, I bridled at being called an inmate. – Richard Stratton

I want to recognize that the organization I work for, Black and Pink, has been conducting a survey of LGBTQ prisoners across the country [that asks this question directly], and of the nearly 1,000 respondents, there is no agreement. We offered the options of inmate, prisoner, incarcerated person, person who is incarcerated, and other. “Other” had the largest percent, with most respondents saying they simply want to be referred to by their name. The issue of language is essential, but it’s important to be clear what purpose the user of the language has. I find the term “inmate” to be intentionally depoliticizing the reality of incarceration. When Black and Pink releases a final report, we will use the term prisoner in our writing, recognizing that there is not a universal agreement amongst our membership about terminology. – Jason Lydon

I’m a law student immersed in criminal defense. I’m also a prior defendant in a federal case with decades of punitive exposure, a veteran with four combat tours, and I have an MFA in Creative Writing, so I know the value of individual words….I propose that it’s best to use words that describe what the vast majority of American inmates really are: Prisoners of War. They’re prisoners of war in a racist and classist War on Drugs. They’re prisoners of war in war against poverty, but instead of trying to raise them up out of poverty, our society just wants to throw them out of sight. – Matthew Hefti

As someone who was a prisoner myself, “Prisoner” is the most accurate term for someone in prison…One anecdote about this: I was once disciplined fairly harshly in a California women’s prison for referring to myself as a prisoner while speaking to an officer. In our conversation, the guard interrupted me and told me I was a female inmate, and not a prisoner. He said that referring to myself as a prisoner was against rules and furthermore subversive to the order of the facility. – Kathleen Culhane


As a probation officer, they are initially defendants and eventually clients…They are receiving a service from me, the same as if they were applying for a loan at a bank. Past action is not always indicative a future action and a label should not precede the person. – Josh Gunselman

Person in prison…I have spent years working for and side-by-side with people who are in prison or who have been released from prison. I have witnessed over and over these individuals – who are my clients, my colleagues, and my friends – physically wince when others refer to them as “prisoner,” “felon,” “offender” or “criminal.” It is a sad commentary on our society that people lose their status as people – as fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, employees, friends, colleagues, etc., – because they have committed a crime and been caught. Yet people who have committed a crime and not been caught – and let’s face it, this is the vast majority of all people – do not similarly lose their humanity. How can this be justified? Indeed, how can it be justified in the face of the reality that people of color tend to be caught more than their white counterparts? – Patricia Warth

Man or woman or person who is incarcerated…Let’s stop using correctional language designed to denigrate and dehumanize. If we want to make sentencing less extreme and conditions of confinement less brutal, we need to keep each of the people suffering the cruelty of system up front. Words are important. – Lois Ahrens

Man, woman or person in prison…I teach at a prison and insist that my students not use the term “offender,” which is what the prison system calls them and they, for too long, have called themselves. I tell them it would be like referring to someone as “liar” because they lied years ago. As for prison officers (and I was one), I find “guard” derogatory, and better describes something you do with inanimate objects. “Correctional officer” conveys a fanciful, and to my mind unseemly, relationship btw keeper and kept. “Prison officer” simply denotes an individual granted official authority within the specific domain of a penal institution. – Kelsey Kauffman

I work with juvenile offenders and I always insist on asking them what they prefer to be called, which is usually their first name. The security staff only ever call the kids by their last name. I’ve always felt that it’s too militaristic and it allows staff to forget that they aren’t dealing with adults. – Nancy Acevedo

Uttering their name without disdain will actually be music to their ears. Their path took a wrong turn. They are there to be corrected. Not punished! I was a cop for twenty years. – Kumar Prem

When you examine the history of this country whenever America wanted to oppress or dominate a particular group of people they first began with the language they used to describe that particular group of people. When America wanted to justify taking indigenous people’s land we described them as “savages”. When America wanted to justify the chattel slavery of African people we called them “jiggabo”, “monkey” or “nigger” terms that debased their humanity. The list goes on and on. Lastly, I respectfully disagree with your argument that pejorative labels like “ex-convict” are accurate descriptors of people who have been to prison. The analysis is similar to one put forth by undocumented advocates when they began the “I” campaign. Labels like “ex-convict” describe conduct that I engaged in which may have violated a law but they do not describe the full breadth of my humanity. So in 1996 I was convicted of drug trafficking. Since that time I have attained my Associates, Bachelors, and Juris Doctor degrees. I’m licensed to practice law in Minnesota and North Carolina. I have been honored at the White House. I’m a Deacon in my church. I’m a husband, a father, and a valued member of my community. It’s unfortunate and a disservice to the full breadth of my humanity to solely defined me by my contact with the criminal legal system. I’m more than the sum total of my contact with the criminal legal system. When the Marshall Project began I got the impression that you all wanted to report on issues related to criminal legal reform in a different way, to hopefully spur change and reform. Changing the language you all use to refer to people entangled in the criminal legal system will make you a leader in the media and further the progression of this movement. Thank you for the opportunity to give my perspective. – Daryl Atkinson

This story was originally filed on April 3, 2015 at


Man convicted of fatally shooting Michael Jordan’s father seeks new trial

The man convicted of fatally shooting Michael Jordan’s father in eastern North Carolina more than two decades ago hopes to win a new trial with what his attorneys describe as a wealth of new evidence.

The Durham-based lawyers representing Daniel Andre Green, 40, maintain that a range of issues – from allegations of false testimony to police and jury misconduct – marred the 1996 trial that led to a lifetime prison sentence.

Green has maintained throughout the past two decades that he did not shoot James Jordan. His trial attorneys acknowledged that he helped dispose of James Jordan’s body and drove Jordan’s car.

They tried, though, to cast doubt on key testimony from Larry Demery, his co-defendant. Demery agreed to testify as part of a plea deal with prosecutors for a lesser sentence that makes him eligible for parole in 2016.

Prosecutors have said that Jordan was shot and killed inside his Lexus on July 23, 1993, along the edge of U.S. 74 near Lumberton. Family and friends said they thought he had pulled over to take a nap after leaving a wedding.

Scott Holmes, a defense lawyer and director of the N.C. Central University Civil Litigation Law Clinic, and Ian Mance, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, have raised questions in recent years about blood evidence in the case.

In 2010, a former FBI agent released the results of his outside review of thousands of cases handled by the SBI crime lab, showing that Green’s case was initially highlighted as one of some 200 mishandled during a 16-year period. The review found that analysts omitted, overstated or falsely reported information about blood evidence in those cases.

In the 250-page request for appropriate relief filed in Robeson County Superior Court on Wednesday, Green’s attorneys contend that Jennifer Elwell, an analyst whose work was called into question, testified that blood was found on the seat of James Jordan’s car. The trial attorneys never received the results from four follow-up tests that countered those claims.

“The blood evidence was critical to securing Mr. Green’s conviction because it was the only physical evidence supporting Larry Demery’s version of events,” Mance, the attorney, said in a statement.

Judge Gregory Weeks, the trial judge, provided the attorneys with a sworn statement saying that if Elwell had changed her conclusion about the substance found in the Lexus, that “would constitute false and misleading testimony on a material fact.”

The testimony about blood, the defense attorneys contend, was crucial: without blood, prosecutors had no other physical evidence to bolster Demery’s claims.

The request for a new trial also states that Robeson County deputies seized James Jordan’s cellphone, but never questioned a man who was called from that number after Jordan’s death. The man called was the son of then-Sheriff Hubert Stone, a friend of the lead investigator and one of Demery’ co-workers, the defense attorneys contend.

“The discovery of the call from Jordan’s car phone to a convicted drug trafficker with close ties to the sheriff’s department casts a whole new light on this case and undermines confidence in the verdict,” Holmes said in a statement.

Holmes and Mance also questioned the reliability of a witness who claimed Green robbed and shot at him weeks before James Jordan was killed. The man later told investigators that all blacks looked alike to him.

There also were questions about whether a juror watched media coverage of the trial and discussed details outside of the deliberations room.

Efforts were unsuccessful on Wednesday to reach Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt, who prosecuted the case almost 20 years ago. The prosecutor can respond to the motion and it will be up to a judge to schedule a hearing.

This story was written by Anne Blythe and originally appeared online at on Wednesday, April 1, 2015


New evidence in Daniel Green’s case, SCSJ attorneys are seeking a new trial

Contact: Joyce Fitzpatrick


For Immediate Release

Daniel Green Files Motion for New Trial



April 1, 2015

DURHAM, NC (March 31, 2015) – Daniel Green, one of two men currently imprisoned for the murder of James Jordan in 1993, filed a motion for a new trial Wednesday in Superior Court in Lumberton, North Carolina. Attorneys for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed a motion that details a wide range of issues – from false testimony to police corruption to juror misconduct – that contributed to his conviction and warrant a new trial. The issues include:

  • False Testimony: SBI Agent Jennifer Elwell was a key prosecution witness who testified that she found blood in Mr. Jordan’s Lexus. She later admitted that she did not know what the substance was. Following the Green trial, Agent Elwell was found to have lied in other murder cases and was suspended from the SBI.
  • Withholding Information: A 2010 audit of the SBI revealed additional blood testing that was highly favorable to the defense and suggested that the microscopic substance found in the vehicle was not blood. This information was never shared with the defense. Judge Gregory Weeks, who presided over the trial, has stated in a sworn affidavit that the exculpatory blood tests were material evidence and withholding the information was a violation of his order. Shortly after Green’s conviction, the blood evidence was destroyed without proper notice.
  • Police Corruption: Robeson County Sheriff Hubert Stone and other law enforcement officers repeatedly pointed to Mr. Jordan’s cell phone records as the most importance piece of evidence that led police to Green and Larry Demery. One of the first calls made from James Jordan’s cell phone following the murder was to Hubert Deese, a convicted cocaine trafficker. New evidence reveals that Deese is the biological son of Sheriff Stone, was a long-time friend of lead detective Mark Locklear, and was an associate of Larry Demery. The two men worked together less than a mile from where Mr. Jordan’s body was discovered. Despite the call from Jordan’s phone to Deese, police never questioned him during the investigation.
  • Secret Plea Deal: Larry Demery, a co-defendant in the murder of Mr. Jordan, was the prosecution’s star witness against Green. New evidence indicates that District Attorney Johnson Britt made a secret plea arrangement with Demery that allows him to be eligible for parole in 2015. The plea agreement was not disclosed to the defense, in violation of the law.
  • Juror Misconduct: During jury selection, the prosecution failed to read a list of potential witnesses to James Cassidy, who would go on to serve on the jury. Mr. Cassidy had been accused of sexual misconduct by two of Green’s alibi witnesses, allegations that would have prevented him from serving on the jury. Furthermore, Mr. Cassidy has admitted that he watched media coverage of the trial and discussed the case with people outside of the court during the trial, in violation of the court’s instructions.
  • Unreliable Witnesses: One of the prosecution’s main witnesses was Clewis Demory, an elderly man who identified Green as having robbed him and shot him. In a newly discovered interview, Demory is quoted as saying that all black people look alike and he didn’t know who robbed him.

Green is represented by attorneys Ian A. Mance of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and Scott Holmes, a Professor at the North Carolina Central School of Law.  Green, 44, admitted that he helped dispose of Mr. Jordan’s body following the murder and has acknowledged that he had possession of property that was stolen from the victim.

“The Judge who sentenced Mr. Green to life in prison has filed an affidavit with today’s motion stating that if Agent Elwell has changed her opinion about the substance found in the Lexus, then her testimony at trial would constitute false and misleading testimony on a material fact,” said Ian A. Mance, one of Green’s attorneys.  “The blood evidence was critical to securing Mr. Green’s conviction, because it was the only physical evidence supporting Larry Demery’s version of events.”

“The discovery of the call from Jordan’s car phone to a convicted drug trafficker with close ties to the Sheriff’s department casts a whole new light on this case and undermines confidence in the verdict,” said attorney Scott Holmes.

Following a response from the State of North Carolina, an evidentiary hearing on the motion will be scheduled.  You may view the motion here.

Exhibit 27 – Ian Mance Affidavit

Exhibit 100 – Judge Gregory Weeks Affidavit


Court Says Packing Black Voters in Districts is Unconstitutional


Contact: Anita Earls, Southern Coalition for Social Justice 919-794-4198 (Office)



In a win for voting rights advocates, the U.S. Supreme Court today put the brakes on using explicit racial criteria in redistricting. The 5 to 4 decision constrained the cynical use of the Voting Rights Act to justify race-based redistricting that minimizes the voting strength of minority voters—a strategy employed by several Southern states in the 2010 redistricting cycle.

The Court ruled that race predominated in the Alabama legislature’s redistricting of state house and senate districts when it moved black voters into majority-minority districts in order to prevent the percentage of minority voters from declining. Justice Breyer, for the majority, wrote “[t]hat Alabama expressly adopted and applied a policy of prioritizing mechanical racial targets above all other districting criteria (save one-person, one-vote) provides evidence that race motivated the drawing of particular lines in multiple districts in the State.”

The Court went on to hold that such race-based redistricting must be subjected to strict scrutiny. The central legal principle in determining if such districts meet constitutional muster is the Court’s conclusion that “Section 5 [of the Voting Rights Act] does not require a covered jurisdiction to maintain a particular numerical minority percentage. It requires the jurisdiction to maintain a minority’s ability to elect a preferred candidate of choice.”

Not a single Justice approved, defended, or found justified the Alabama Legislature’s practice of packing black voters to achieve a particular numerical majority in legislative districts.

Plaintiffs in the North Carolina redistricting case have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the redistricting plans drawn in this state, which, they contend, employed two race-based criteria as “safe harbors” – a racial proportionality goal for the number of majority-black districts that must be drawn in each plan and a requirement that each district must have greater than 50% black voting age population. “The decision in the Alabama case makes clear that the Voting Rights Act does not require, and the Constitution does not permit, the use of mechanical racial targets in redistricting, as was done in North Carolina” said Anita Earls, an attorney for some of the Plaintiffs in the North Carolina case.

The North Carolina case is Dickson v. Rucho, No. 14-839. A case raising similar issues regarding Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District also pending in the Supreme Court, is Cantor v. Personhuballah, No. 14-518.


“Ban the Box” campaign gains momentum in Washington

This story was written by Josh Gerstein and appeared on on March 25, 2015  

Obama urged to ease hiring of ex-prisoners

A group of criminal justice reformers, including some who served prison time, are headed to the White House Wednesday to press President Barack Obama to do more to help those who’ve been convicted of crimes find jobs, housing and other necessities once they get out.

The delegation is urging Obama to issue an executive order that would ban the federal government and government contractors from asking most job applicants about their criminal histories. The idea, labeled “Ban the Box,” has already been enacted in some form in 14 states and more than 100 localities.

“The trip to the White House for me is really meaningful,” said Dorsey Nunn, who now runs the San Francisco-based charity Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and went to prison in 1971 — at the age of 19 — in connection with a liquor store robbery in which the store’s owner was killed.

“I had to sit down and wrap my head around the fact that I had walked through both the gates of San Quentin and the gates of the White House compound,” Nunn said in an interview, referring to a visit he paid to the White House for another event last year.

The “Ban the Box” campaigners are set to meet Wednesday with the White House Director of Urban Affairs Roy Austin, as well as others from the Domestic Policy Council and the National Economic Council, before going to the Labor Department for another meeting.

Former prisoners say the challenges of getting a job and a place to live after doing time are among the leading factors that push former inmates to commit new crimes and society to incur additional costs to lock them up again.

“Look, it’s not rocket science,” said Daryl Atkinson, a senior staff attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “If folks can’t participate in the legal economy, that pushes them back to the illegal economy.”

Atkinson, who’s scheduled to attend the White House session Wednesday, spent 40 months in prison in North Carolina for drug trafficking in the 1990s before attending college and law school. He noted that about one in four American adults have faced charge or conviction in the criminal justice system and can encounter hiring problems as a result.

“This affects between 65 and 71 million Americans. If we want to make sure those folks have the opportunity to contribute to the economy and become taxpayers and productive members of society, this is a necessary policy initiative,” Atkinson said.

The campaigners say they’ve gotten a “very open” reception from other administration officials, such as a “re-entry” council Attorney General Eric Holder set up in 2011 to address problems integrating former prisoners into society.

Removing or delaying questions about criminal records in the federal hiring process raises obvious questions, like what to do about the tens of thousands of jobs that are security-related or require background checks. The Obama administration has pressed in court to preserve the government’s ability to demand such checks even for low-level positions, like store and data-entry clerks.

Atkinson said the fact that people with a criminal history might not be suitable for some government or contractor jobs doesn’t mean all of them should be off limits.“I can imagine in the FBI’s case, its positions, or Homeland Security, they’d be exempted out. That’s reasonable, but that’s the exception rather than the rule as far as the vast number of federal jobs associated with the federal government,” he said.

A White House spokesman declined to discuss the meeting or the administration’s stance on the “Ban the Box” idea, which was fought in California by the district attorneys’ association.

In 2013, the Obama administration warned federal contractors that bans on hiring those with criminal records could run afoul of discrimination laws because of the disproportionate rate at which minorities are incarcerated. However, the memo didn’t explicitly prohibit contractors from taking such issues into account.

As Obama’s presidency winds down, criminal justice reform has emerged as an issue of greater focus for him. It’s also garnering attention from Republican governors and from conservatives like mining barons Charles and David Koch. Former Obama White House aide Van Jones and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are holding a summit meeting in Washington Thursday, aimed at cutting prison populations by 50 percent.

The effort to focus on rehabilitating and reintegrating prisoners got a boost this week from two very prominent figures in the judicial system: Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer.

“The corrections system is one of the most overlooked, misunderstood institutions, functions, that we have in our entire government,” Kennedy said at a House budget hearing Monday. “Lawyers are fascinated with the guilt/innocence adjudication process. And once the adjudication process is over, we have no interest in corrections….This idea of total incarceration just isn’t working. And it’s not humane.”

“I think it is a big problem for the country,” Breyer added.

In connection with the White House meeting, more than 100 labor, civil liberties and religious groups sent a letter to Obama Wednesday urging him to take executive action to require what the advocates call “fair chance hiring.”

Another campaigner headed to the White House session, Pastor Mike McBride of the faith-based group PICO Network, said he believes the bipartisan drive will make it easier for Obama and his aides to see a move on the ex-prisoner employement issue as a part of his legacy.

“I believe we’re creating a kind of crescendo and climate where the idea we’re verbalizing will be an easy, softball pitch for them,” McBride said. “People shouldn’t be penalized for their whole life for indiscretions they have made.”



Welcoming the ‘most vulnerable’

This editorial appeared in The Herald-Sun on Sunday, March 8, 2015.

More than 2,100 unaccompanied immigrant children have been placed with sponsors – often family members – in North Carolina, according to the U.S. Office of Refugee and Resettlement.

North Carolina is one of the “highest receiving states” for such children, estimated to total more than 57,000 nationwide, Esther Yu-Hsi Lee reported on the left-leaning ThinkProgress website in January.

These children – placed temporarily with sponsors while awaiting decisions by immigration courts – are “the most vulnerable of the voiceless,” George Eppsteiner of the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice wrote in an opinion piece in The News and Observer last September. They “often are escaping insurmountable poverty and violence in their home countries.”

We are a compassionate society. We would almost universally, you would think, rally to the cause of supporting and welcoming these children.

Sadly, in many North Carolina communities, just the opposite reaction is being openly voiced by government bodies or is implicit in obstacles and delays that confront those children as they attempt to enroll in school. That reaction ignores state law that says any child – regardless of immigration status – is entitled to public education in their home school district.

Boards of commissioners in Rowan, Brunswick and Surry counties have passed resolutions objecting to such enrollment. The social justice coalition has filed federal civil rights complaints against Buncombe and Union county school districts for denying enrollment to unaccompanied immigrants.

Given those sentiments, it is welcome – and reassuringly unsurprising – that Durham is taking the opposite tack and forthrightly welcoming the estimated 300 such children here. 

The Durham City Council unanimously adopted a resolution urging local government departments to serve those children and thanking the school district for enrolling them. Monday, the school board unanimously and swiftly adopted a similar resolution. 

“We didn’t even need to debate it because we know it is one of our values,” board Chairwoman Heidi Carter said. 

Eppsteiner was among those who spoke at Monday’s meeting.  The board’s support is important, he said, “because there have been some unwelcome resolutions that have been passed in … other areas that don’t have large populations of these children.”

The board heard from Alex Herrera, a Riverside High School junior who migrated from Honduras when he was 7. 

“At Riverside alone about 60 immigrant children are enrolled per semester and this year we have tried to tutor them,” he told the board. “The teachers have helped. The students have helped but it is not enough sometimes and we need the extra help from you.”

We’re proud to be in a community where that extra help is willingly extended, instead of meanly denied.

Selma 2015: Banner

Selma march feels like ‘hope and justice magnified’

Susan Burton of A New Way of Life in Los Angeles and Daryl Atkinson of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice finally got their turn to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge — twice.

Burton’s dispatch:

There are just thousands and thousands and thousands of people, as far as the eye can see, people lined up coming across that bridge.

We marched backward across it the first time, signifying the rights that have been lost, the injustice of the criminal justice system. Voting rights. The fact that I can’t serve on a jury, despite the fact that I’m 20 years from ever having been incarcerated.

When we reached the other side of the bridge, we turned around to march in unity with everyone else. It felt so powerful. I felt like there was a uniting of all the energy, the collective mass of individuals. It felt like we were a body, we were a power, we were a force.

There were people in wheelchairs. There was a guy who was there on the first march, he was walking up on a walker.

I’m on my way to the airport now, and people are still coming across that bridge! Oh, my goodness. It felt like hope magnified. Hope and justice magnified.

–Susan Burton
Selma 2015

This coverage of the 2015 Selma march was written by Susan Burton and first appeared in the L.A. Times on Sunday, March 9, 2015. Photo Credits: L.A. Times


School board supports migrant children issue

This story was written by Gregory Childress and was originally published in The Herald-Sun on Tuesday, March 3, 2015.

DURHAM-The school board has adopted a resolution reaffirming its support of more than 300 unaccompanied migrant children who now attend Durham Public Schools.

The resolution was on the board’s consent agenda during a rare Monday night school board meeting held to make up for one missed last Thursday due to recent winter storms that dumped several inches of ice, sleet and snow on the Triangle.

Being placed on board’s consent agenda means an item will likely be approved.

“We are so committed to this cause that it’s on our consent agenda,” said school board Chairwoman Heidi Carter. “We didn’t even need to debate it because we know it is one of our values.”

The Durham City Council has also adopted a resolution pledging its support for unaccompanied migrant children.

Although the school board was expected to unanimously approve its resolution — and did, 7-0 — more than a dozen people attended Monday’s meeting to show their support.

One of them, Alex Herrera, a junior at Riverside High School, who migrated to the U.S., from Honduras at age 7, told the board that he knows well the hardships faced by the more than 300 unaccompanied migrant children who now attend Durham Public Schools.

“I still have family over there that tell me about the hardship, the poverty, the crime,” said Herrera, a member of the Latino Parent-Student Council Coalition.

School officials have said many of the children traveled to the U.S., alone and arrived with myriad problems, including gaps in their education, emotional trauma from abuse and other such problems that require extra resources.

Herrera said those problems don’t stop once the children reach the U.S.

“Now, they’re here and they’re struggling,” Herrera said. “They have increased in great numbers and they are visible in Durham Public Schools.”

Herrera said the school district is also struggling under the influx of the new students.

“At Riverside alone about 60 immigrant children are enrolled per semester and this school year we have tried to tutor them,” Herrera said. “The teachers have helped. The students have helped but it is not enough sometimes and we need that extra help from you.”

In October, school officials reported that DPS was serving 282 such children, primarily from the Latin American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

The largest concentrations of unaccompanied migrant children were at Riverside High (55) and Jordan High (42). The next largest concentration was at Githens Middle School (35) and Creekside Elementary (28).

George Eppsteiner, a staff attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said Durham is one of the largest jurisdictions in the state that has agreed to receive unaccompanied minors.

“It’s critical for this board to send a message that these children are welcome and will be supported in Durham Public Schools,” Eppsteiner said. “The reason that’s important is because there have been some unwelcome resolutions that have been passed in other local government jurisdictions and other areas that don’t have large populations of these children.”

Eppsteiner said the law, in fact, mandates that such migrant children be supported in the communities they reside.

He cited a more than 30-year-old Supreme Court in which the justices ruled against a Texas school district that tried to deny undocumented youth access to a free public school education.

“The Supreme Court said there is actually more harm in preventing these kids from accessing public education because the schoolhouse plays such a key role in their development,” Eppsteiner said.

Herrera said the decision to adopt the resolution will go far in showing the students that the board considers them important members of the school district.

“We are glad that this is not an issue that is being put to the side,” Herrera said. “Many times that is what happens when it doesn’t apply to our lives or it doesn’t affect us directly. You have taken into the account the importance of it. They are coming to the schools and that’s the first place that’s going to impact them. That’s the first place they learn the language and learn how the school system works.”

And regardless of whether the students remain in the U.S., Herrera said their experience here will follow them for a lifetime.

“That’s what’s going to help them out through life no matter [whether] they stay in this country of if they have to leave,” Herrera said. “Schools are the place where they start and it’s where they get the good or bad influence.”