Texas Legislative Districts Found Unconstitutional by Federal Court

 

SAN ANTONIO, TX – The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas has issued a partial opinion in Perez v. Abbott, a case challenging Texas’ 2011 statewide redistricting plans, striking down several U.S. Congressional districts in the state.  The case has been pending since 2011 when the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) and co-counsel challenged the redistricting plans on behalf of the Texas NAACP and three individual Texas voters.  

The Court not only found that several Texas Congressional districts diluted minority voting strength in violation of the Voting Rights Act, but also that the districts were drawn with the intent of discriminating against black and Latino voters.  While the decision involves districts in Southwest Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth area, it is likely that other districts will be impacted when the districts are redrawn.  With this finding of intentional racial discrimination, SCSJ and others will vigorously seek to have Texas “bailed in” under the Voting Rights Act, or once again subject to federal preclearance before any voting changes are implemented.

Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who litigated the case, issued the following statement about the Court’s decision:

“We are pleased that the court recognized and rejected the intentional discrimination that occurred when lawmakers drew Texas’ Congressional districts in 2011. One of America’s core values is that the government cannot discriminate based on race. This ruling confirms that legislatures are not free to mask racial discrimination with party politics.  It’s well past time for Texas lawmakers to draw fair Congressional and state legislative districts that allow the people and communities of the state to participate in their government without prejudice or bias.”

 

The opinion in the case can be found at http://bit.ly/PerezOpinion

The finding of facts in the case can be found at http://bit.ly/PerezFacts

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice also successfully challenged unconstitutional redistricting maps in North Carolina in Covington v. North Carolina. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering the writ certiorari in that case.


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Federal Court Allows North Carolina Partisan Gerrymandering Case to Move Forward

 

Federal Court Allows North Carolina Partisan Gerrymandering Case to Move Forward

 

DURHAM, N.C. – In a unanimous ruling, a three judge panel in North Carolina in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina denied a request by defendants to dismiss League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho.  The case was initially filed in September 2016 claiming that partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina’s 2016 congressional redistricting plan violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The opinion can be found at http://bit.ly/PartisanGerrymandering2

“On behalf of our clients and the voters of North Carolina, we are happy that this case will now proceed to an examination of the evidence and the merits of our claims,” said Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “Our clients want to see government returned to rule by the will of the people instead of a system plagued by partisan manipulation.”

The trial in the case is set to begin on June 26, 2017, in Greensboro, N.C.

“We are inching closer to North Carolinians having their day in court,” said Ruth Greenwood, deputy director of redistricting at the Campaign Legal Center. “Voters should be able to choose their representatives, yet in North Carolina and other states across the nation, politicians are manipulating maps to choose their voters and stay in power. North Carolina’s map is an egregious partisan gerrymander that prevents voters from having their voices heard on policy decisions that directly impact their lives. Through this litigation, we hope to advance a legal theory we believe can stop this unconstitutional practice nationwide, and return democracy to the people.”

The lawsuit as filed in September 2016 can be found here: http://bit.ly/PartisanGerrymandering

More information about the “efficiency gap,” the standard being put forth to determine how partisan a redistricting plan is can be found here: http://www.southerncoalition.org/southern-coalition-for-social-justice-files-data-driven-partisan-gerrymandering-lawsuit/

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voters Fight Back Against Fraud Accusations

Voters Fight Back Against Fraud Accusations

Defamation lawsuit filed in Greensboro, N.C., by voters wrongfully accused of committing voter fraud
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Four voters in Guilford County, N.C., have filed a defamation lawsuit against the individual who accused them of voting without being eligible to do so. In the 2016 general election, at least 85 people across North Carolina were accused of voting in multiple states or being ineligible to vote because of a felony conviction. Not a single one of the accusations was found to be valid.
Recent unsupported claims by President Trump have moved the issue of illegal voting into the national spotlight. At the national level, the rhetoric around this issue has been broad and vague. In contrast, North Carolina voters were called out by name and were publicly accused of committing a crime.
“Today voters are fighting back,” said Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “We want to send the message loud and clear that it is wrong to intimidate voters by accusing them of committing a crime without having any evidence to support the claim.”
“This was personal,” said Karen Niehans, a 74-year-old resident of Jamestown, N.C. who was accused of voting in two states. “My democratic right to vote was challenged. It’s as if someone was saying that I was less than others, that my voice shouldn’t count. That’s just plain wrong to do to someone and I am not going to take it. I want to make sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
Karen and her husband Sam Niehans moved to North Carolina in August 2016 to be closer to family. They are eligible to vote and ultimately had their votes counted after the local board of elections found the challenges to both of their votes to be without merit.
Louis Bouvier of Greensboro, N.C. was also accused of voting in two states.  Unlike the Niehans, Bouvier has voted in North Carolina consistently since 1988.
“My son and I share a name. That’s likely why someone accused me of voting in two states,” Bouvier said. “But it’s a sorry state of affairs when someone can accuse you of a crime without properly vetting or researching the facts.”
Gabriel Thabet of Greensboro, N.C., was accused of not being allowed to vote due to a felony conviction from 19 years ago. However, North Carolinians with a felony record have their rights automatically restored after they have served their sentence and completed parole. His vote was ultimately counted.
“I have spent the last 19 years trying to forget the mistakes that I made as a kid,” Gabriel Thabet said. “I wish that I had never been accused of not being allowed to vote. Just as I had to learn from my childhood mistakes, I cannot change the past but I can help shape the future. I am standing up to make sure other people are not intimidated the way I was.”
In 2013, North Carolina passed a monster voter suppression law.  Although the law was struck down by the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, state legislators used similar baseless claims to cast doubt over our elections process to build support for passing the measure.  There are concerns that the unsupported challenges to voters in 2016 will be used for the same purpose.
“This case is about protecting the rights of every eligible voter to be able to cast their ballot without being intimidated or having to face baseless accusations,” Allison Riggs added.  “Voters are pushing back against vague and unfounded claims of voter fraud being used to drum up support for voter suppression laws. Today is the day that voters fight back.”
A pdf of the lawsuit can be found at http://bit.ly/VoterDefamation
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Federal Court Denies State Legislature’s Request to Postpone Drawing Legislative Districts in 2017

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 4, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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NC Legislative Rewrite Undermines Democratic Principles

Legislative Rewrite of Judicial Elections and Election Board Composition Undermines Democratic Principles
SB 4 would usurp executive powers for partisan purposes

RALEIGH – State Sens. Rucho, Rabon and Tucker introduced SB 4 just hours after the legislature convened its fourth special session of the year. Among its many provisions, SB 4 appears to:

  • Overhaul the State Board of Elections and change the process for appointing members, creating the potential for deadlock on the eight-member board that could lead to limitations on early voting and other voting access issues, and increasing the General Assembly’s control over members of that independent state agency;
  • Alter the structure of county boards of elections from three to four members, further creating the potential for deadlock on election issues at the county level as well;
  • Remove the right to directly appeal to the N.C. Supreme Court unless the case is first heard en banc (by all 15 members) by the Court of Appeals, ensuring that all rulings are made by a majority of Republican judges before they ever get to the Supreme Court, delaying constitutional challenges to statutes enacted by the General Assembly and making it more expensive to win court cases challenging those statutes; and,
  • Make N.C. Supreme Court elections partisan, which will inject partisanship into elections for a nonpartisan judicial body charged with impartially interpreting and applying the law.

After the bill was introduced, Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, issued the following statement:

“Instead of a court-packing bill, it appears we got a court-denial bill. This proposal seems to delay Supreme Court review of cases, including those involving citizens’ constitutional rights. Unconstitutional laws could be in effect for years before the State Supreme Court would finally get the case and rule. It also means that every case will be ruled on first by a majority of Republican judges. This further encourages more partisanship instead of fostering an impartial judiciary.”

“Changing the State Board of Elections is also a partisan power grab that is not justified by any real need. The special legislative session was convened to address the needs of communities that were impacted by flooding and wildfires. Using this session for partisan trickery is not only a waste of taxpayer money, it also uses disaster victims as political pawns.”

The full text of SB 4 can be found at: http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/BillLookUp/BillLookUp.pl?Session=2015E4&BillID=s4&submitButton=Go

Anita Earls

Anita Earls pens Washington Post column

The Washington Post has published a column by Anita Earls, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s Executive Director. The column covers how dangerous the rhetoric being used in North Carolina’s election process is and the likely consequences of doing so.

Ms. Earls writes:

“Despite this, McCrory and other Republican Party officials are engaging in an effort to subvert the election results by tainting them with unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud and elections officials’ misconduct. Doing so is not only dangerous, but it also creates the perception that the election results are unreliable when they are not, and it fuels future legislative efforts to disenfranchise voters.”

Further, Earls outline why claiming voter fraud is dangerous when there’s no evidence to support the claim:

“…claiming voter fraud without any supporting evidence is dangerous. Free speech is protected, but one cannot yell “fire!” in a crowded theater. It’s dangerous. So, too, is making an allegation of election fraud with no solid evidence. It causes irreparable damage to the public’s faith in the democratic process.”

The column lays out how these allegations can be used in future legislative efforts to disenfranchise voters in North Carolina:

“…we have already seen a willingness for state legislators to run roughshod over minority voters. And despite a federal court rejecting North Carolina’s previous voter suppression efforts, we expect to see more attempts to deprive people of their right to vote in the next legislative session. Undoubtedly, fears stoked in this election will be used to push those regressive changes through the legislative process.”

Anita Earls and the voting rights team at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice are dedicated to combatting efforts to undermine our elections process, and are quick to point out the real threats to our democracy:

“It’s time to move past the dangerous rhetoric being used by McCrory and his allies to disparage the election results. Only then can we focus on the real threat to democracy in North Carolina — the continual effort to keep people of color and others from fairly and equally participating in civic life.”

Click here to read Anita’s full column on the Washington Post’s website.

Federal Court Orders NC Legislature to Draw New State Legislative Districts by March 15, Hold Special Elections in November 2017

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 29, 2016

Federal Court Orders NC Legislature to Draw New State Legislative Districts by March 15, Hold Special Elections in November 2017

DURHAM –  In a unanimous ruling today, a three-judge panel in the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina ordered the General Assembly to redraw 28 racially gerrymandered state house and senate districts by March 15, 2017, and to hold a special primary and general election in the fall of 2017.  The terms of all legislators elected in November 2016 and serving in any district modified by the General Assembly are shortened to one year.  If the legislature fails to draw new districts, the court may do so.

“North Carolinians deserve fair representation in the state legislature, and that is impossible to achieve with racially gerrymandered districts. A special election in the affected districts in 2017 is the best way to protect the rights of all North Carolinians,” said Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which, along with the Poyner Spruill and Tin Fulton law firms, represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

According to the order, North Carolina shall hold a primary election in late August or early September and a general election in early November 2017. The specific dates are to be set by the legislature, or by the Court if the legislature fails to act.  Legislators elected in the new districts in 2017 shall take office on January 2, 2018 and serve a one year term.

In the order, the three-judge panel noted, “While special elections have costs, those costs pale in comparison to the injury caused by allowing citizens to continue to be represented by legislators elected pursuant to a racial gerrymander” (page 2-3).

Lead plaintiff Sandra Covington, a retired elementary teacher from Fayetteville, explained that as a result of the racially gerrymandered districts she “was plucked out of my district and placed into another district simply because of my race.”  Covington, along with 30 other individuals from across the state who reside in the racially gerrymandered districts, filed the lawsuit challenging the districts.  

The Court ordered the legislature to redraw state House Districts 5, 7, 12, 21, 24, 29, 31, 32, 33, 38, 42, 43, 48, 57, 58, 60, 99, 102, and 107; and state Senate Districts 4, 5, 14, 20, 21, 28, 32, 38, and 40.

A copy of the order is available here: http://bit.ly/CovingtonNC

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(C) CommonDreams.org

Statement on State Board of Elections Order

Southern Coalition Statement on State Board of Elections Order

DURHAM – The North Carolina State Board of Elections issued an order yesterday giving guidance to county election boards to ensure uniform application of voting laws and rules.  In the order, the State Board of Elections directed county boards to dismiss election protests that merely dispute the eligibility of a voter (see item number 6 in the order).  To date, dozens of challenges have been filed across the state contesting voter eligibility, with most being dismissed for a lack of evidence or being cases of mistaken identity.

In addition to the individual challenges, there was a large-scale challenge filed last week by Francis De Luca of Civitas to throw out the ballots of same-day registrants, potentially thousands of them. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) represents a number of voter engagement advocates and affected voters in the state who quickly moved to intervene and defend against that challenge.  Many of the clients represented by SCSJ are the same people who won the ruling this summer in the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to uphold same-day registration in the state.

Yesterday’s order from the State Board of Elections also prohibits county election boards from retrieving and throwing out a ballot cast by an unqualified voter unless the challenge was filed in a timely manner or there is evidence that “voters participated in numbers sufficient to change the outcome of the election” (see item number 7 in the order).

Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, represented SCSJ at the State Board of Elections’ public meeting regarding this matter.  After the order was released, Riggs issued the following statement:

“Most of the election challenges we have seen in North Carolina are baseless and indiscriminate efforts to undermine public confidence in the election. We applaud the State Board of Elections for offering guidance to local election officials to make sure that eligible voters are not disenfranchised. It’s time to move forward with finalizing the state’s election results.  North Carolinians deserve to have closure in this election and know that their vote cannot be discounted by partisan efforts to sabotage an election.”