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.”

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.

 

Federal Judges Rule Texas’ 2011 House Districts Intentionally Discriminated Against Voters

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS – The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas has issued an opinion in Perez v. Abbott, a case challenging Texas’ 2011 statewide redistricting plans, finding that districts drawn for the state House of Representatives intentionally discriminated against minority voters. The case has been pending since 2011 when the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) and co-counsel challenged the Congressional and State House redistricting plans on behalf of the Texas NAACP and three individual Texas voters. The Court issued its opinion on the 2011 Congressional plan on March 10, 2017.

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:

“Today a three-judge panel in Texas ruled that the state’s 2011 redistricting plan for State House districts was intentionally racially discriminatory, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act. The state failed to draw districts that reflected the explosive growth in minority population, and, indeed, fragmented those populations in order to avoid creating new minority opportunity districts. Plaintiffs will be in front of the court on April 27 to discuss next steps in ensuring that these violations are corrected before the 2018 elections.”

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

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Federal Judge Overturns Legislature’s Greensboro Redistricting Scheme

 

GREENSBORO, N.C. – A judge in the Middle District of North Carolina has found that the 2015 legislative redistricting of the Greensboro City Council districts was unconstitutional. Individual Plaintiffs represented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice challenged the maps on the grounds that the redistricting scheme:

  • Violated the “one person, one vote” doctrine by packing voters into certain districts and diluting their voting power;
  • Racially gerrymandered one city council district; and,
  • Treated Greensboro voters differently from voters in all other North Carolina communities by prohibiting voters from changing the city’s method of election by petition and referendum.   On this claim, the City of Greensboro also was a Plaintiff, represented by the Brooks Pierce law firm.

On April 3, federal District Court Judge Catherine C. Eagles ruled that prohibiting a referendum was unconstitutional. Further, she held that “the Act largely ignored legitimate redistricting criteria along the way to achieving a partisan goal.”  Because, as Judge Eagles wrote, “[t]he United States Constitution does not allow an electoral system which makes one person’s vote more powerful than another’s,” the entire redistricting plan is unconstitutional.  As a result of the decision, Greensboro will keep its current districts and voting structure.

A PDF of the court’s opinion can be found at http://bit.ly/GreensboroRedistricting.

After the ruling, Allison Riggs, Senior Attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and lead attorney on the case for the individual Plaintiffs, issued the following statement:

“We are pleased that the court recognized the wrong that would have been done to the City of Greensboro and its residents if this redistricting scheme were allowed to go into effect. We can debate policies and practices, but there are certain rights that should never be denied to anyone in America. One of those is the right to have everyone’s vote have the same weight.

“When the legislature overreached into local politics, it did so with no regard for respecting the people’s right to have their voice heard. Today, the court correctly provided a check for a gross legislative overreach.”

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Raise the Age Legislation Introduced in North Carolina

Legislation was introduced in the N.C. General Assembly earlier today that would raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction in North Carolina to 18 for low-level felonies and misdemeanors. Under House Bill 280, most 16-and 17-year-olds charged with crimes would be referred to the juvenile system instead of the adult criminal system, which is the current practice.

Members of the public wishing to support the effort to Raise the Age can sign a petition at https://raisetheagenc.org/take-action/.

Ricky Watson, Co-Director of the Youth Justice Project, released the following statement after the bill was introduced:

“The Youth Justice Project views raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction as a true investment in our state’s youth.  Raising the age will inevitably yield a lasting return from a public health, public safety, and economic standpoint. It will give more youth the opportunity to avoid the devastating collateral consequences of a criminal charge. Most of North Carolina’s 16- and 17-year-olds will no longer suffer the potentially lifelong stigma of a criminal conviction that makes finding employment, securing housing, and accessing education and financial aid far more difficult for North Carolina youth than their peers in other states.  YJP recognizes that holding 16- and 17-year olds accountable in the rehabilitative framework of juvenile court is in the best interest of the public, as well as that of the individual juveniles. It also gives North Carolina’s children the best opportunity to become productive, economically independent, and well-adjusted adults. Ultimately, YJP hopes that this will be the first in a number of steps to improve juvenile justice in our state.”

YJP recognizes that holding 16- and 17-year olds accountable in the rehabilitative framework of juvenile court is in the best interest of the public, as well as that of the individual juveniles. It also gives North Carolina’s children the best opportunity to become productive, economically independent, and well-adjusted adults. Ultimately, YJP hopes that this will be the first in a number of steps to improve juvenile justice in our state.”

More information about the Raise the Age Coalition can be found at https://raisetheagenc.org/

More information about HB 280 can be found at http://bit.ly/NCRaisetheAge

 

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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