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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 12, 2018

Contact:

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

Mackenzie Long, mlong@wearerally.com, 916.524.3197

 

Voters File Federal Court Challenge to Voter Intimidation Efforts in Virginia

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Voting Rights Advocates Seek New Districts in Wake County for the 2018 Election

RALEIGH, N.C. — The Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed a redistricting challenge in Wake County Superior Court today arguing that the 2017 changes to four Wake County State House Districts violate the state constitution’s prohibition against mid-decade redistricting; asking the court to prevent the illegally altered Wake County districts in the legislature’s 2017 plan from going into effect; and asking the court to ensure that any remedial plans apply the lines originally drawn for House Districts 36, 37, 40, and 41, contained in the 2011 adopted map, for the upcoming 2018 elections.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of North Carolina NAACP, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, Democracy North Carolina, North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, and four individual plaintiff-voters from Wake County.

The focal point of the lawsuit is the legislature’s altering of state House District lines in Wake County when it engaged in a court-ordered redistricting in 2017 to cure two racially gerrymandered districts in the county.

When lawmakers used this opportunity to change the lines for House Districts 36, 37, 40, and 41(none of which were named in the court order), they went beyond what the federal court directed and altered the lines of districts that did not need to be redrawn to remedy the racial gerrymandering. Doing so violated the mid-decade redistricting prohibition found in Article II, § 5 of the North Carolina Constitution. (See http://bit.ly/NCarolinaConstitution, p. 6).

The complaint asks that the four state House Districts in Wake County be returned to their 2011 boundaries in time for 2018 state legislative elections.

The lawsuit was filed nine days after a three-judge panel in the same court decreed that the legislature’s handling of Wake County’s districts should be addressed in a new lawsuit.

Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and lead attorney in the case, issued the following statement after the lawsuit was filed:

“Voters in North Carolina have a state constitutional right to have their legislative districts changed only once a decade. This is an important protection in state law–one that many states don’t have–and its clear purpose is to prevent the ills of gerrymandering and political gamesmanship present here. When tasked with fixing racially gerrymandered districts in 2017, the legislature made no secret of using politically-motivated and illegal changes throughout the county, violating the North Carolina Constitution in the process. Swapping one constitutional violation for another is not acceptable, and we expect the state courts to vigorously protect the state constitutional rights of our clients.”

Janet Hoy, co-President of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, offered the following statement about the challenge:

“North Carolinians have not been able to vote in constitutional state legislative districts this decade. Lawmakers have dodged their obligations to enact fair districts time and time again. That will not deter us from continuing to push fair districts for voters that comply with the state and federal constitutions.”

Marian Lewin, President of the League of Women Voters of Wake County, issued the following statement after the lawsuit was filed:

“It’s a shame that lawsuits like this are necessary. We shouldn’t have to go to courts to have fair districts. But until lawmakers listen to the voters and pass redistricting plans that don’t discriminate against voters or violate the law, we are going to need strong women – like the individual plaintiffs from Wake County in this case – to continue to stand up and demand fair voting districts.”

A PDF of the lawsuit can be found at http://bit.ly/NCNAACPvLewisComplaint

A PDF of the Motion for Preliminary Injunction can be found at http://bit.ly/NCNAACPvLewisPI

Plaintiffs Quick to Seek Relief in State Court after U.S. Supreme Court Action

RALEIGH, N.C. – Plaintiffs in a state court redistricting challenge have asked a three-judge panel in Wake County Superior Court to order new districts into effect that comply with the North Carolina Constitution.  The motion comes less than 24 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that districts drawn by a Special Master that remedy racially gerrymanders be included in the state’s districting plan but temporarily blocked the Special Master’s recommended House districts in Wake and Mecklenburg Counties that were intended to resolve state constitutional violations.

 

In December, plaintiffs in Dickson v. Rucho asked the three-judge panel in Wake County Superior Court to retain jurisdiction in the case until it was clear that the remedy enacted at the federal level in Covington v. North Carolina also fixed any state constitutional violations.  The order by the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday leaves the door open for the state court to take up this matter.

 

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice represents the N.C. NAACP, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, Democracy North Carolina, the N.C. A. Philip Randolph Institute, and more than 30 individual plaintiffs in Dickson v. Rucho.

 

Today’s filing can be found at http://bit.ly/DicksonEmRelief

 

 

Excerpts from today’s motion:

 

“The stay entered yesterday by the United States Supreme Court does not deprive this state court of the authority or duty to interpret the state constitution and to ensure that Joint Plaintiffs are afforded full constitutional relief.”  (p. 5)

 

 

“…this Court can and must rule on state constitutional issues.  This Court must ensure that the remedial plan does not embed other violations of the state constitution in the legislature’s attempted remedy of federal constitutional violations.  This Court is the only court that can now provide for elections under constitutional districts for the first time this decade.”  (p. 7)

 

 

“It is not sufficient that the General Assembly simply enact new districts if these new districts also do not correct the constitutional flaws and comply with state and federal law.  This Court can and must intervene if deficiencies are identified and left unaddressed. The North Carolina Supreme Court upheld this exact kind of intervention in Stephenson v. Bartlett…” (p. 8)

 

 

“Thus, because the Special Master’s and Covington plaintiffs’ proposed maps in these counties remedy the racial gerrymandering violation without affecting House Districts 36, 37, 40, 41 and 105, it is clear that the enacted Wake and Mecklenburg County House district configurations violate the state constitutional prohibition on mid-decade redistricting and cannot be enacted or approved by this Court.”  (p. 13)

 

 

“For all the foregoing reasons, Joint Plaintiffs respectfully request that this Court:

 

  1. Issue a ruling that these consolidated cases are not moot and that judgment is entered in favor of Joint Plaintiffs;
  2. Declare that the 2017 Enacted House Districts 36, 37, 40, 41, and 105 violate the state constitutional prohibition on mid-decade redistricting;
  3. Enjoin Defendants from conducting elections under the 2017 enacted House plan’s configurations of the Wake and Mecklenburg County districts;
  4. Order that the configurations of Wake and Mecklenburg County House districts designed by the Special Master in Covington, which do not violate the state constitutional prohibition on mid-decade redistricting, be ordered into effect for the 2018 election cycle; and
  5. Order that any citizen residing in a House district modified by the Court’s order as of the closing day of the filing period for the 2018 election be qualified to serve as a Representative if elected to that office, notwithstanding the requirements of Section 7 of Article II of the North Carolina Constitution.”  (p. 14-15)

U.S. Supreme Court Orders into Effect Fixes for Racially Gerrymandered Districts for 2018 Election

Puts hold on some of the Special Master’s districts related to state constitutional violations

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This evening the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block a district court’s order that remedied racially gerrymandered districts that were first enacted in the state’s 2011 redistricting plan and would have been perpetuated by the legislature’s 2017 plan. The Supreme Court did stay revisions to a small number of districts that violate the state constitution, however.

The districts redrawn by the Special Master to correct racial gerrymandering concerns will go into effect this election cycle. The state court will likely determine the future of the districts in Wake and Mecklenburg Counties, which were ordered redrawn to comply with the state’s prohibition on mid-decade redistricting.

Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice who represents plaintiffs in the case, issued the following statement after the decision was announced:

“Finally, after years of litigation, North Carolinians will be able to elect their state legislators from districts that do not discriminate against voters based on their race. This decision represents a major victory for all North Carolinians who value fair elections and democratic principles.”

“To date, the legislature has done all that it can to obstruct, delay and undermine this order, which wastes time and taxpayer money. But now we’ll finally have districts that do not segregate voters on the basis of race. And despite this long and arduous journey, there are courageous people, like the plaintiffs in this case, who have not hesitated to stand up against every effort to abuse our democracy and unlawfully divide voters based on race. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is very proud and honored to represent them.”

“We are confident that the legislature’s gross abuse of its power will ultimately either be shot down on full appeal or addressed by the state court. We look forward to presenting our case to the U.S. Supreme Court on those merits to make sure that the final redistricting plan fully complies with North Carolina’s constitution.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice also represents plaintiffs in a state redistricting challenge, Dickson v. Rucho, which is currently before the Wake County Superior Court. That court could now take up the question of whether districts in Wake and Mecklenburg County need to be altered in order to avoid violating the state constitution.

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

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 filed objections to the newly drawn district plans and a hearing was held in front of a three-judge panel in the Middle District of North Carolina on October 12, 2017.

On October 26, 2017, the federal panel announced its intention to appoint Dr. Nathaniel Persily to the position of “Special Master” to review the newly adopted redistricting plan and make recommendations to ensure compliance with state and federal law in a few areas of the map where the Court believed the remedial plan was inadequate or otherwise illegal. Dr. Persily’s appointment became official on November 1, 2017.

Dr. Persily issued draft recommended changes to the state’s redistricting plan on November 13, 2017, and solicited feedback from the plaintiffs and defendants. Both submitted comments.

Meeting the deadline set by the three-judge panel, Dr. Persily submitted his final set of recommendations to the district court on December 1, 2017.

The three-judge panel heard arguments from the plaintiffs and defendants regarding the Special Master’s plan on January 5, 2018.

On January 19, 2018, the three-judge panel ordered that the Special Master’s recommendations be incorporated into the state’s state legislative redistricting plan.

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Court Orders Special Master’s Recommended Districts Incorporated into State Legislative Redistricting Plan to Correct Constitutional Flaws

Court-ordered maps are now law

GREENSBORO, N.C. – A panel of three federal court judges has issued a unanimous order that incorporates the recommendations of the court-appointed Special Master, Dr. Nathan Persily, into North Carolina’s state legislative districts.  The Dr. Persily was asked to alter nine state legislative districts after the Court identified that the 2017 legislatively-enacted plans that were supposed to remedy the racial gerrymandering identified in the 2011 plans failed to adequately remedy the constitutional flaws or otherwise violated state law.  The districts as ordered by the court are now the official state legislative districts of the state.

“We appreciate the input and guidance of the Special Master and the Court to fully eliminate the unconstitutional use of race to segregate voters in North Carolina state legislative districts,” said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “North Carolinians across this state fought for fair districts. We hope that legislators respect the reasoned opinion of this court that this kind of race discrimination has no place in our democracy.”

This same three-judge panel found in 2016 that twenty-eight state legislative districts to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

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 at http://bit.ly/CovingtonOrder

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, The federal court for North Carolina’s Middle District ordered the 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 filed objections to the second enacted district plans and a hearing was held before the panel of three judges on October 12, 2017.

On October 26, 2017, the Court announced its intention to appoint Dr. Nathaniel Persily to the position of “Special Master” to review the newly adopted redistricting plan and recommend adjustments to ensure the map’s compliance with state and federal law.  Dr. Persily’s appointment became official on November 1, 2017.

Dr. Persily issued a draft recommending changes to the state’s redistricting plan on November 13, 2017, and he solicited feedback from the plaintiffs and defendants.  Both parties submitted comments.

Meeting the deadline set by the three-judge panel, Dr. Persily submitted his final set of recommendations to North Carolina’s Middle District Court on December 1, 2017.

The three-judge panel heard arguments from the plaintiffs and defendants regarding the Special Master’s plan on January 5, 2018.

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Supreme Court Grants North Carolina’s Application to Delay Redrawing of Electoral Maps, Putting Fair Elections in North Carolina in Jeopardy For 2018 Election

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Supreme Court said North Carolina does not have to redraw its congressional voting maps by January 29, as a federal district court ordered on January 9 when it struck down the 2016 map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) represent the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, in this legal challenge to state’s 2016 maps. North Carolina’s maps have been in dispute since 2012, and the Supreme Court invalidated the state’s 2012 and 2014 maps as a racial gerrymander. In 2016, North Carolina voters went to the polls with the current map, which the district court has now also ruled unconstitutional.

“North Carolina voters deserve to have a fair map before the 2018 election, or they risk a fourth consecutive election under an unconstitutional map that does not reflect their preferences,” said Ruth Greenwood, senior legal counsel, voting rights and redistricting at CLC. “A single election under an unconstitutional map is one too many; four are intolerable. For that reason, the Supreme Court must move quickly to hear this case this term.”

“Voters and even most elected officials agree that partisan gerrymandering is violating the constitutional rights of Americans all over the country,” said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.  “While we are disappointed that the stay was granted, North Carolinians deserve to participate in fair elections in 2018.  We are optimistic that the U.S. Supreme Court will, before the end of this term in June, recognize the harm to our democracy created by partisan gerrymandering and find such egregious efforts to diminish voters’ power unconstitutional. We still believe the day is coming soon for the General Assembly to be held to account for this madness.  The law and the facts of this case make that clear.”

The Supreme Court is currently considering a case challenging Wisconsin’s state assembly maps as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. CLC and co-counsel represent 11 Democratic voters in the state in the landmark case, Gill v. Whitford. The federal district court in North Carolina applied the same tests for measuring partisan symmetry as applied in the Wisconsin case, indicating that there is in a fact a way to consistently measure what constitutes an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. CLC has combined forces with other groups and legal teams as these cases advance together through the courts.

“It’s clear that partisan gerrymandering continues to worsen decade by decade, and the result is voters are becoming voiceless in the political process. That is not democracy,” said Paul Smith, vice president of litigation and strategy at CLC, who argued Whitford before the Supreme Court in October. “Lawmakers will most likely never reform the system so long as they can get away with drawing maps that keep them in power. The Supreme Court is our last resort and has the opportunity this term to provide guidance to federal courts and state legislators to understand when a map crosses the line.”

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

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Filed: Request for U.S. Supreme Court to allow congressional redistricting to move forward

On Wednesday, January 17, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed plaintiffs’ response to the emergency stay application to the U.S. Supreme Court, on behalf of the League of Women Voters of NC.  The response we just filed with the court can be found at http://bit.ly/LWVOpposition

Feel free to read the brief in full, but here are excerpts that highlight why the U.S. Supreme Court should allow the redistricting process to move forward and deny the request to stay the lower court’s decision.

 

Excerpts from Plaintiff’s Response in Opposition to Emergency Stay Application:

p. 1:

In the oral argument in Gill v. Whitford, Justice Kennedy raised the hypothetical of a state law that “says all districts shall be designed as closely as possible to conform with traditional principles, but the overriding concern is to increase [seats] for party X.” Oral Argument Tr. at 19, Gill v. Whitford, No. 16-1161 (U.S. Oct. 3, 2017). Counsel for the legislative amici (who also represents the Appellants here) agreed that such overt partisan discrimination would be unconstitutional. “[T]hat could be your instance of a problem that can be actually solved by the Constitution.” Id. at 26.

Justice Kennedy’s hypothetical is this case.

p. 5:

Third, Appellants’ motion should be denied because, if remedial proceedings are stayed, North Carolina’s voters will likely be condemned to a fourth consecutive election under an unconstitutional congressional map. In 2012 and 2014, the districts eventually invalidated on racial gerrymandering grounds in Cooper v. Harris, 137 S. Ct. 1455 (2017), were used. In 2016, North Carolina’s voters went to the polls in an election in which, thanks to partisan gerrymandering, their preferences were not reflected in the makeup of their congressional delegation. And in 2018, this injury will be inflicted anew if a stay is granted.

 

p. 5 – 6:

Moreover, in that event, the merits briefing should be expedited so as to allow a decision this Spring, in time for a new plan to be used in the 2018 election. A single election under an unconstitutional map is one too many; four are intolerable.

p. 24:

While Appellants have not made a persuasive claim of irreparable harm, the voters of North Carolina will be irreparably injured if a stay is granted. When considering a stay request, the Court must “balance the equities.”

 

SCSJ files petition where local election certification is unlawfully overturned

WINTERVILLE, N.C. – Mr. Ricky Hines won a seat on the Winterville Town Council in November’s election.  However, at the urging of the staff of the N.C. State Board of Elections staff, the Pitt County Board of Elections uncertified the election results and ordered that incumbent John Hill retain his seat despite losing the election to Mr. Hines. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice has filed a petition in Wake County Superior Court on behalf of Hines on December 20, requesting that the court honor the election certification and award Hines his seat on the town council.

“This election was certified and state law does not allow a local board of elections to revoke that certification once it has been granted,” said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the attorney representing Ricky Hines.   

Hines’ margin of victory was one vote.  His election was made official when the Pitt County Board of Elections issued him a certificate of election on November 27.

The weekend after the canvass, it was discovered that a street that was eventually to be annexed into the town of Winterville, but was not yet within the town limits, had been improperly geocoded and ten voters on that street had been given ballots to vote in the municipal election even though their residences were not yet part of the town.

Mr. Hill requested a recount which occurred on November 21, 2017, with the same result: Richard Hines defeating incumbent John Hill by one vote.

Multiple news outlets covered the recount and the geocoding error.  Articles appeared in the Greenville Daily Reflector, WNCT, and WITN. Mr. Hill, or any Winterville resident, could have filed an election protest on or before November 22, 2017.  No protest was filed.

With no protest pending, the Chair of the Pitt County Board of Elections, Patrick Nelson, issued a certificate of election to Mr. Hines on November 27, 2017.

“The geocoding error was well known, it was reported widely in the press, and every Winterville resident had the opportunity to file a protest. Overturning the election and circumventing the process now is wrong,” stated Allison Riggs.

On the morning of December 6, 2017, nine days after the County Board issued the certificate of election to Mr. Hines, staff at the NC State Board of Elections called the director of the Pitt County Board of Elections and informed him that because the geocoding error could have affected the outcome of the election, the county board had wrongly certified the election results.  They instructed the County Board to convene in an emergency meeting, request a new election, and revoke the certification of election issued to Hines.

“I thought we were done once the election was certified.  Important decisions are being made on town council right now.  What’s happening now is undermining the ability of voters in Winterville to have their certified representative govern.  That is unacceptable and undemocratic,” concluded Ricky Hines.

The petition filed in Wake County Superior Court can be found at http://bit.ly/WintervillePetition

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Dr. Kareem Crayton Hired as Interim Director for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice

DURHAM, N.C. – The Board of Directors for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) has hired Kareem Crayton, J.D., Ph.D. to serve as the interim executive director as the organization conducts a search for a full-time director.  Anita Earls, the organization’s current executive director and founder, is stepping down from her position at the end of the year to run for a seat on the Supreme Court of North Carolina.

 

Dr. Crayton’s employment with the civil rights organization will start on January 1, 2018.

 

“We are incredibly fortunate to have Dr. Kareem Crayton be a part of this transition,” said Farad Ali, Chair of SCSJ’s Board of Directors.  “In the 10 years since our founding, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice has become one of the premier civil rights organizations in our country.  We are committed to moving forward, and Dr. Crayton is the right person to help us do just that.”

 

Dr. Crayton is an internationally respected scholar, expert, and consultant whose work centers on the intersection of law, politics, and race. He is the only academic in the United States in law and political science whose primary work explores the relationship between race and politics in representative institutions. A native of Montgomery, Alabama, Crayton is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College and holds a Ph.D. in Political Science as well as a law degree from Stanford University.  Aside from managing a consulting firm, Dr. Crayton has most recently served on the faculty of Vanderbilt University Law School.

 

“The  Southern Coalition for Social Justice is vital to defending the civil rights of marginalized communities in the South,” said Dr. Kareem Crayton.  “Having worked with this organization over the years as a partner, I know the key role SCSJ plays in making our governing institutions more accountable and responsive.  I am therefore excited to lead the board, staff, and our community partners through this phase and to make sure we continue this important work well into the future.”

 

Anita Earls, SCSJ’s current director, praised the board’s decision. “Kareem brings great insight to our organization. His deep knowledge of issues related to race, politics, and the South will be an incredible asset to the coalition,” said Earls.  “I am comforted to know that Dr. Crayton will be taking charge of the organization I founded and love.”

 

“There is no way that SCSJ would have accomplished everything we have without the leadership of Anita Earls.  We are thankful for and will certainly miss her leadership,” said Farad Ali.   “Our work moves forward, though.  We will continue to challenge unconstitutional racial and partisan gerrymandering that disenfranchises people and communities of color.  We will persist in our advocacy for reforming the criminal justice system, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, and creating fairer and safer schools for our youth.

 

N.C. Attorneys Challenge Court Fines and Fees as Unconstitutional

Advocacy groups encourage similar challenges across North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina’s practice of charging criminal defendants with an array of court fines and fees unjustly burdens low-income people and violates the state constitution, according to a motion filed today in Wake County Superior Court. The motion challenging the constitutionality of court costs is the product of a working collaboration between several nonprofit organizations including the ACLU of North Carolina and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

The state’s criminal justice system charges defendants with mandatory fines and fees for costs related to court, jail, community service, and more. These fees start at $180 but can reach into the tens of thousands and are used to fund various state agencies, even though the state constitution requires that most should fund the public school system.

Attorney Scott Holmes filed the motion in the case of Carol Anderson and Dale Herman, demonstrators arrested at the N.C. Legislative Building protesting House Bill 2. The motion challenges the constitutionality of court costs on the grounds that some are being used to fund the court system, not the local school system as required by the constitution. Article IX, Section 7 of the state constitution states:

“…all penalties and forfeitures and of all fines collected in the several counties for any breach of the penal laws of the State, shall belong to and remain in the several counties, and shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for maintaining free public schools.”

The coalition has made the motion available as a template for other attorneys to use to challenge the constitutionality of court costs throughout the state.

The motion filed today is available for viewing and download at http://bit.ly/FinesAndFees

Attorneys interested in filing similar motions can find a template document at http://bit.ly/FinesAndFeesTemplate.

After the motion was filed in Wake County Superior Court, statements were issued by the following coalition partners:

Cristina Becker, Criminal Justice Debt Fellow at the ACLU of North Carolina:

“For far too long the legislature has gotten away with circumventing the state constitution to fund an array of state agencies on the backs of the poor. North Carolina’s excessive court costs have created modern-day debtors’ prisons that keep people in jail simply for being poor and have a devastating impact on communities across the state. We are offering this motion as a template for other attorneys throughout the state and encourage them to use it to challenge the unconstitutionality of court fines and fees in every jurisdiction.”

David Hall, criminal justice attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice:

“We must do everything we can to end the unconstitutional practice of funding our court system on the backs of the poor and indigent people of the state.  The burdens of court fines and fees disproportionately affect people of color, and it’s time to end this practice.”

Scott Holmes, attorney for Anderson and Herman:

“This is an important step in reversing the flow of resources in the school to prison pipeline.  Our Constitution requires that the fees collected in criminal cases shall fund the education of our children in public schools, not fund our courts.”