Community Groups Add to Civil Rights Complaint Against Lee County School System

FORT MYERS, F.L. – The Lee County NAACP submitted an amended civil rights complaint to the U.S. Department of Education last week, pointing out that students of color are drastically overrepresented in the school-to-prison pipeline as a result of the school district’s current disciplinary policies and are afforded fewer opportunities to succeed academically than their white peers.

The amended complaint includes examples of individual students and families affected by the systemic issues raised in the original complaint filed in September 2017. The violations in the complaint signal the school system’s failure to comply with the Civil Rights Act, a requirement for all schools that receive federal funding.

“The majority of students in Lee County schools are students of color,” noted James Muwakkil, President of the Lee County NAACP.  “And sadly, students of color here are more likely than their white peers to be removed from the classroom, suspended, expelled, referred to law enforcement, and drop out. Our school system is failing our children and we must do something about it now.”

The current Lee County school district policies result in students of color having:

  • Higher retention and dropout rates: Black students, who make up 15% of the school district population, represent 22% of students who are held back a year in school and 18.9% of students who drop out in a single year. Hispanic students make up 35% of the student population but 40% of students who are held back and 40% of single-year dropouts. By contrast, white students, who make up 45% of the school district population, represent just 34% of students who are held back and 40% of single-year dropouts.
  • Lower graduation rates: Black students graduate at a 63% rate, compared to a 71% rate for Hispanic students and an 80% rate for white students.
  • Lower gifted enrollment: Black students represent just 6% of students who are enrolled in gifted programs. Hispanic students represent 20%. White students represent 67%.
  • Increased racial achievement gap: The achievement gap between black and white students in Lee County is 30 percentage points or more in all subject areas.  For Hispanic students, it’s at least 17 percentage points in all subject areas.  The district lags behind the state average in all categories.

The complaint also makes suggestions for how the school system can address the civil rights violations.  The complaint asks the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights to require Lee County School District to:

  • Adopt more equitable policies based on those that have succeeded in other school districts that serve primarily students of color, including a revised code of student conduct and student discipline bill of rights providing adequate due process.
  • Improve training about race for its staff and administrators.
  • Set clearer expectations for student behavior.
  • Expand the number of representatives of color on the School Board and its advisory committees.
  • Study the reasons for the current academic and disciplinary disparities to inform additional needed policy reforms.

All of the suggested changes are policies or practices that have been implemented by other Florida school systems to address similar problems.  

“There are solutions for the discrimination that students of color face in this school system.  We have seen the school systems in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, and Broward Counties make changes to make students safer and more successful in their schools.  We can do the same thing right here in Lee County.  Students should have every chance to succeed.  And I am not going to sit by and let the schools be the place that holds them back or pushes them off course,” said Dr. Shirley Chapman, chairwoman of the Lee County NAACP Education Committee.

The original report and new supplement can be found at http://bit.ly/CivilRightsComplaint.  

Photo credit: WRAL

Special Master Ordered in North Carolina Racial Gerrymandering Case

GREENSBORO, N.C. – A federal three-judge panel has appointed a “special master” to “assist the Court in evaluating” the districts that Plaintiffs explained either failed to cure the racial gerrymandering the court unanimously found in 2016 or violate the state constitution.  The Special Master will also help in “developing an appropriate plan remedying any problem with” districts in the plan adopted by the North Carolina General Assembly in August 2017 that the court may find inappropriate as a remedy. The remedial redistricting process took place after the same three-judge panel found 28 districts to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders in 2016.

The order announces the court’s intention to appoint Professor Nathaniel Persily, a professor at the Stanford School of Law, as the special master to review the redistricting proposal.  The full court order can be read at http://bit.ly/SpecialMaster.

Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and lead attorney for plaintiffs in the case, issued the following statement after receiving the court’s order:

“It has been shown time and again that the state legislature refuses to draw fair districts that comply with the law. Our clients are hopeful that this process will result in fair districts for all North Carolinians.”

 

More information about this case:

Covington v. North Carolina was filed in May 2015.

In August 2016, the federal three-judge panel found that 28 districts were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders but noted that it was too close to the 2016 general election for the problem to be fixed that year.

In November 2017, the three-judge panel ordered new districts to be drawn by March 2017 and for a special election to be held in the Fall of 2017.

The U.S. Supreme Court stayed the lower court’s order for a special election in January 2017 while it decided whether or not to consider the case.

On June 5, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously agrees with the lower court’s finding that 28 state legislative districts were racial gerrymanders and sent the matter back down to the three-judge panel in North Carolina’s Middle District Federal Court to determine an appropriate remedy.

In late July 2017, the three-judge panel ordered the legislature to correct the racial gerrymandering through a legislative process. After a new redistricting proposal was adopted by the N.C. General Assembly, plaintiffs objected to several districts that failed to remedy the racial gerrymandering or drew new district lines in areas that shouldn’t have redrawn.

The special master appointed by the court will now review those districts and consider appropriate remedies.

 

Gerrymandering 101

By Rock the Vote’s Kosoko Jackson & The Southern Coalition for Social Justice

This article originally appeared on Medium on October 2, 2017

The Supreme Court recently heard arguments on whether state legislatures can purposefully divide up legislative districts so that they benefit one political party or disadvantage others. This practice — called “partisan gerrymandering” — is all too common across our country and can block communities from fairly electing leaders who represent their values and the issues important to them.

SO WHAT IS GERRYMANDERING ANYWAY?

Every decade after the national census, states draw new electoral districts, which are areas with equal populations that determine who gets to vote for each seat in the state legislature and in Congress. Ideally, districts should allow the voters who live in them to elect a range of legislators who represent the diverse political views of people across the state. Redrawing political lines is a powerful tool that can determine who wins an election, controls the legislature, and ultimately which laws on issues ranging from the minimum wage to climate change to criminal justice reform pass.

“Gerrymandering” occurs when state legislatures purposefully draw district boundaries so that they give an advantage to a particular group or party — or put an opposing party or group at a disadvantage. This is primarily accomplished using two different methods: cracking and packing.

Cracking is the spreading of similar voters — voters of the same party, race, economic background, etc. — across multiple districts to weaken their voting power in each one. This denies the particular group fair representation in multiple districts. Packing is the concentration of similar voters together in one district to reduce their voting power in other districts. This gives the group representation in a single district while denying them representation across other districts.

The effects of gerrymandering are widespread:

  • Political monopolies: Not only is gerrymandering used to protect politicians already in power by making their districts less competitive, but once redistricting happens, it can take up to 10 years before lines can be drawn again. This leads to monopolies of power.
  • Underrepresentation: Poor communities and communities of color are most frequently the targets of cracking and packing, and as a result, their political power is diluted.
  • Heavy Partisan Manipulation: Gerrymandering has much to do with why politics are so partisan today. When districts are gerrymandered to be less competitive between multiple view-points, representatives do not have to compromise on hard line stances in order to win seats. This partisanship goes on to effect everything, from funding, to school districts, to you name it. Change and progress comes from a healthy push-and-pull that isn’t present in gerrymandered districts.

Additionally, not all gerrymandering is the same. There are two key types of gerrymandering that the Supreme Court has considered the constitutionality of: partisan and racial.

WHAT IS PARTISAN GERRYMANDERING?

Partisan gerrymandering, which the Supreme Court is considering in Gill v. Whitfordis used to discriminate against a political party. This prevents opposition parties from gaining enough voters to represent a viable alternative point of view, and leads to the formation of political monopolies.

Partisan gerrymandering isn’t new — in fact it’s been around for a very long time — but that doesn’t make it right, or constitutional. In most states, the party in power can draw the lines to serve their own interests, not those of our communities. Even if a district’s shape does not look as bizarre as the first gerrymander, its population can still be engineered to elect a specific kind of politician.

For example: Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan are purple states in terms of party affiliation and all voted for former President Obama in 2008 and 2012, then President Trump in 2016. You would probably expect them to send about 50 percent Democrats and 50 percent Republicans to the U.S. House of Representatives. Instead, 34 of their total 48 House representatives (71 percent) are Republican, largely because of partisan gerrymandering.This type of manipulation of the redistricting process undermines the very spirit of our democracy and fair elections. Still, gerrymandering remains a staple of partisan politics at their worst, and shameless legislators continue to use it despite the harm it does to fair representation for our communities.

WHAT IS RACIAL GERRYMANDERING?

Racial gerrymandering is the intentional, not accidental, segregation of voters based on race. States have traditionally used “cracking” to weaken the political power of communities of color. They do this by breaking up communities of color into multiple districts, ensuring that there are not enough voters of color in any one district to elect their candidate of choice. As communities of color grow, states have used “packing” to concentrate them into just a few districts, thereby weakening their political power elsewhere. With few opportunities to elect their candidates of choice, the concerns and issues that racial groups and communities of color have lack adequate representation in local, state, and federal government.

A key enforcement provision of The Voting Rights Act prohibited states from “cracking” communities of color, and courts have time and time again struck racial gerrymandering down as unconstitutional. But, with the Voting Rights Act’s enforcement provision no longer in place, states are free to draw district lines without first making sure that those districts are not discriminatory. Racial gerrymandering is once again becoming a common tool to disenfranchise and suppress people of color.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

This is worth repeating — gerrymandering is NEVER an accident. The weakening of racial or political groups’ voting strength is done on purpose to create a monopoly of power. Advocates are battling in courts across the country to fix this problem and reign in the rampant use of gerrymandering to block vulnerable communities from building power to impact elections. But, even if you aren’t a lawyer, there are things you can do.

And as always, keep speaking truth to power.

Objection Filed Against Unconstitutional Districts in New Legislative Redistricting Plan

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Plaintiffs in Covington v. North Carolina filed pleadings with North Carolina’s Middle District Court today, objecting to certain House and Senate districts recently adopted by the state legislature because they do not remedy all of the constitutional violations previously found by the court.  The objection also notes that the legislature unnecessarily redrew some legislative districts that were not found to be racial gerrymanders and did not touch any district that was found to be unconstitutional.  Altering those districts amounts to mid-decade redistricting, which is prohibited by Article II, Sections 3(4) and 5(4) of the North Carolina Constitution (See http://bit.ly/NCarolinaConstitution,p. 6).

“What we filed today is no different from what we told the General Assembly before they passed these new districts.  They failed to cure the illegal use of race in several areas of the state.  It is now the Court’s responsibility to fix the problem,” said Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and lead attorney for the plaintiffs. “Further, the legislature violated the North Carolina Constitution by redrawing districts in Wake and Mecklenburg counties that should not have been touched.”

 

Racial gerrymanders were not cured in four districts

There are two Senate Districts and two House Districts in the newly drawn plan that do not remedy the racial gerrymanders previously found by the court: Senate Districts 21 and 28, and House Districts 21 and 57.  Not all districts with high black voting age populations are being challenged by the plaintiffs, though.  The objection points out:

Plaintiffs are not objecting to all of the redrawn districts that are close to or greater than 50% black in voting age population. … Plaintiffs’ objection to these four districts is not based solely on the racial composition of the districts but rather includes circumstantial evidence including the shapes of the districts and the populations contained within them.  While the implications of this data may be contested, the facts themselves, the compactness scores, the district lines and the census data, are not contested.  (Covington Objection, p. 20 – 21)

 

Five districts in Wake and Mecklenburg counties were unnecessarily redrawn

Aside from its failure to fully cure the racial gerrymanders, the General Assembly also exceeded the authority given to it by the court’s order by redrawing districts that should not have been touched. This violation of the state constitutional prohibition on mid-decade redistricting was found in Wake and Mecklenburg counties.  The objection points out that House Districts 36, 37, 40, and 41 in Wake County and House District 105 in Mecklenburg County should not have been redrawn during the redistricting process. (Covington Objection, p. 35-37)

As part of the legislative redistricting process, the Covington plaintiffs submitted a redistricting proposal that cured the racial gerrymandering violations and did not run afoul of the state constitution by redrawing districts that should have been left untouched. The General Assembly rejected those maps.

Given the unconstitutionality of the redistricting plan adopted by the General Assembly, the objection asks the court to order the state to conduct the 2018 state legislative elections using the recently enacted:

2017 Senate Districts with the Plaintiffs’ proposed districts in the 1) Guilford, 2) Mecklenburg and 3) Cumberland county groupings; and their 2017 House Districts with the Plaintiffs’ proposed districts in the following county groupings:  1) Guilford, 2) Wake, 3) Mecklenburg, 4) Rowan, Cabarrus, Stanly, and 5) Lee, Harnett, Johnston, Wayne, Greene, Sampson and Bladen. In the alternative, Plaintiffs request that the Court sustain their objections and order a special master to redraw the districts in these limited county groupings.  (Covington Objection, p. 43)

“We are asking the court to step up and do what the legislature has continually failed to do – give North Carolinians fair districts that do not discriminate or violate the state constitution,” Earls concluded.

All of the documents related to this filing can be found at http://www.southerncoalition.org/covingtonobjection/

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Background about this case:On June 5, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court summarily affirmed a lower court’s decision in Covington v. North Carolina that 28 of North Carolina’s state legislative districts are racial gerrymanders.  The decision was issued “per curiam,” meaning by a unanimous decision of the Court. The ruling came two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court found two of the state’s congressional districts were also racial gerrymanders.

On July 31, 2017, North Carolina’s Middle District Court ordered the North Carolina General Assembly to redraw legislative maps by September 1, 2017 in order to remedy the unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.  The legislature adopted new maps on August 30, 2017.

Plaintiffs were required to file any objections to the newly draw district plans by September 15, 2017.

Plaintiffs in Racial Gerrymandering Case Release Redistricting Plan

DURHAM, N.C. – The plaintiffs in Covington v. North Carolina submitted alternative redistricting plans earlier today to the legislative committees in charge of the redistricting process. Attorneys for the plaintiffs also submitted a letter to members of the House and Senate committees, outlining problems with the legislature’s proposed redistricting plan and pointing out the constitutional violations that exist in the maps.

 

“The maps put forth by our clients achieve several key objectives that are not found in the extremely partisan maps offered by legislative leaders,” said Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and lead attorney for plaintiffs in the Covington case. “Based on our initial analysis, the legislature’s proposed redistricting plans do not offer an adequate remedy to the racial gerrymandering in some areas of the state and contain other flaws that violate the state and federal constitutions.”

 

For example, as Plaintiff Julien Pridgen testified yesterday at the public hearing in Raleigh, the House redistricting plan released by legislative leaders unnecessarily redraws the lines of at least five districts that were not considered racial gerrymanders by the federal court and do not touch one of the unconstitutional districts. Those districts, which were redrawn in violation of the state constitution, are House Districts 36, 37, 40 and 41 in Wake County and House District 105 in Mecklenburg County.

 

“It is entirely possible to draw remedial districts that fully comply with the North Carolina state constitution and do not create unconstitutional partisan or racial gerrymanders,” Earls said. “We’ve offered one such alternative to legislators.”

 

The letter sent to members of the Senate Committee on Redistricting and House Select Committee on Redistricting outlining the problems with the proposed legislative maps and offering alternatives is posted at http://bit.ly/CovingtonLetter.

 

A PDF of the House map offered by the Covington plaintiffs is at http://bit.ly/CovingtonHousePlan

 

A PDF of the Senate map offered by the Covington plaintiffs is at http://bit.ly/CovingtonSenatePlan

 

Data files for the maps offered by the Covington plaintiffs are being prepared and will be uploaded to http://www.southerncoalition.org/covingtondata/ as they are ready.

Texas Federal Court Finds Discriminatory Intent in Congressional Maps

SAN ANTONIO, TX – The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas issued an opinion today in Perez v. Abbott, a case challenging Texas’ 2013 statewide redistricting plan, finding that the same racial and ethnic discrimination that existed in the state’s 2011 congressional redistricting plan was still present in the 2013 plans where the district lines remain unchanged.

The Court has ordered the Texas Attorney General to file a written advisory to the state Legislature within three days to inquire whether or not the Legislature intends to take up redistricting to fix the violations. If the Legislature does not intend to engage in redistricting, the Court has set a hearing date of September 5, 2017, to consider remedial plans submitted by the parties to the lawsuit.

Earlier this year, the Court not only found that several Texas congressional and statehouse districts drawn in 2011 diluted minority voting strength in violation of the Voting Rights Act, but also that the districts were drawn with the intent of discriminating against African-American and Latino voters.

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:

“The current congressional maps in Texas are just as discriminatory as the maps we saw before them. Rather than draw fair maps, legislators have diminished African-American and Latino voters’ power and separated them into districts based solely on their race, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act. It’s well past time for the Legislature to fix these violations, and we appreciate the Court’s rejection of the government’s effort to discriminate against voters based on race and ethnicity.”

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

 

Credit: Triad City Beat

North Carolina’s Middle Court Orders New Legislative Maps Drawn by September 1

Greensboro, N.C. — A panel of three federal court judges has ordered the North Carolina General Assembly to redraw legislative maps by September 1, 2017 in order to remedy the unconstitutional and racially gerrymandered districts found in the Covington v. North Carolina case.  Legislative leaders had requested until November 15 to enact new maps, despite knowing for a year that they would be required to do so. In the order, the judges stated: “We agree with Plaintiffs that the General Assembly already has had ample time to enact a remedial redistricting plan.”

Twenty-eight state legislative districts must be redrawn following a finding by the federal court, unanimously affirmed by the Supreme Court, that those districts are unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

“The court’s decision affirms the urgency with which we must address this wrong committed against North Carolina voters. Despite operating as an unconstitutional body, the General Assembly tried to delay redrawing of maps until November 15. This prompt redrawing will allow North Carolinians to, at least, rest assured knowing which districts they will be living in come the November 2018 elections, and that the federal court will be reviewing the remedial plans closely to ensure they are legal,” said Allison Riggs, senior attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

The order did not call for special elections, meaning North Carolina voters will cast ballots in new districts for the first time in the November 2018 elections.

“For far too long, the General Assembly has delayed justice for those North Carolinians who were assigned to districts solely on the basis of their skin color. Today’s decision is an important step toward correcting that the injustice — by requiring the legislature make public their plans to redraw the state’s affected districts.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, along with the Poyner Spruill law firm, represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

A copy of the court order can be found here: http://www.southerncoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Covington-Order-7-31-17.pdf

U.S. Supreme Court Affirms that North Carolina Racially Gerrymandered State Legislative Districts

North Carolina’s federal Middle District Court will consider when new districts are to be drawn and elections to be held

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court summarily affirmed a lower court’s decision in Covington v. North Carolina that 28 of North Carolina’s state legislative districts are racial gerrymanders. The decision was issued “per curiam” – meaning by a unanimous decision of the Court. The ruling came two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court found two of the state’s U.S. Congressional districts were also racial gerrymanders.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has finally and emphatically confirmed what we’ve known for years – that many of North Carolina’s state legislative districts are unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.  The order reaffirms that our clients, and the voters of this state, are entitled to have fair legislative districts that do not discriminate against voters based on their race,” said Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay in January, which did not affect the merits of the lower court’s decision but delayed its remedy calling for a special election in 2017.  The stay is now lifted, and the order has been sent back to North Carolina’s Middle District Court to re-establish timelines for drawing new districts and holding state legislative elections.  In its 2016 order for the General Assembly to draw new districts and hold elections in 2017, the three-judge panel wrote, “[w]hile 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.”

“The court previously called for holding elections later this year in newly drawn districts.  We think there is still time to implement special elections in the impacted districts, and we will do everything we can to make sure that happens,” added Anita Earls.  “Many North Carolinians have been participating in unfair elections in racially gerrymandered districts for far too long.  It’s time to fix this problem.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, along with the Poyner Spruill law firm, represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

SCOTUS ruling in Cooper v. Harris will impact outstanding redistricting challenges in North Carolina

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion affirming a lower court’s ruling in Cooper v. Harris earlier today, holding that race predominated without justification in two of North Carolina’s U.S. Congressional Districts as drawn in 2011. It was a 5 -3 decision with Justice Gorsuch not participating.

Writing for the majority, Justice Kagan explained, “Although States enjoy leeway to take race-based actions reasonably judged necessary under a proper interpretation of the [Voting Rights Act,] that latitude cannot rescue District 1. We by no means “insist that a state legislature, when redistricting, determine precisely what percent minority population [§2 of the VRA] demands.” But neither will we approve a racial gerrymander whose necessity is supported by no evidence and whose raison d’être is a legal mistake.”

“We already have new Congressional Districts in North Carolina. What I find most significant is that the Legislature made the same legal mistake and used race the same way in drawing the state’s House and Senate districts. This opinion, with Justice Thomas joining the majority, must mean those districts are also unconstitutional,” Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

There are two other North Carolina redistricting cases currently before the U.S. Supreme Court – North Carolina v. Covington and Dickson v. Rucho, an appeal from the North Carolina Supreme Court. Both of them have been put on the Supreme Court’s conference calendar for May 25. It is likely that the Court will issue orders in the two pending cases early next week.

“This is good news for all North Carolinians because our democracy is strongest when we have fair districts that do not go block by block to separate voters on the basis of race,” added Anita Earls.

The two districts in question – NC 1 and NC 12 – were redrawn in February 2016 by the North Carolina General Assembly to comply with the lower court’s order. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision means that the state congressional districts can not be reverted back to their pre-February 2016 lines.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the Campaign Legal Center have filed a challenge to the maps drawn in February 2016 in League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho, challenging them as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. That trial is set to be heard in a federal court in Greensboro in June.

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North Carolina voter suppression law falls as U.S. Supreme Court turns down GOP appeal

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has declined to review a federal appeals court decision holding that North Carolina’s 2013 election law — which imposed a voter ID requirement, cut a week of early voting, and eliminated same-day registration — intentionally discriminates against African-Americans. North Carolina has now exhausted all avenues of appeal.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice and American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law, which was struck down by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016. In early January, the state sought Supreme Court review, but the newly elected governor moved to drop the petition, prompting the legislators who passed the measure to try and intervene.

“We are grateful that the Supreme Court has decided to allow the Fourth Circuit’s ruling to stand, confirming that discrimination has no place in our democracy nor our elections,” said Allison Riggs, senior staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “This ruling sends a strong message that lawmakers in North Carolina should stop enacting laws that discriminate based on race.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, ACLU, and ACLU of North Carolina represented the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, North Carolina Common Cause, Unifour Onestop Collaborative, and several individuals.

“This law, enacted with what the appeals court called discriminatory intent and ‘almost surgical precision’ targeting African-American voters, is meeting its much-deserved demise,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “An ugly chapter in voter suppression is finally closing.”

 

The order is at: https://www.supremecourt.gov/orders/courtorders/051517zor_986b.pdf