As Urged by SCSJ, North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement Directs AG’s Office to Move to Quash Overbroad ICE Subpoenas

RALEIGH, N.C. – Today, the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement unanimously agreed to direct the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office to take all necessary steps to quash the vague, burdensome and potentially illegal subpoenas that the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern North Carolina served in the last week on the State Board and 44 county boards of elections.

Yesterday, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) submitted to the State Board and its staff an extensive legal memo (http://bit.ly/SubpoenaMemo) providing analysis in support of a move to quash the subpoenas. The State Board also received a supplemental letter from Assistant U.S. Attorney Sebastian Kielmanovich (https://www.scribd.com/document/388011810/Subpoena-Response-US-Attorney#from_embed) offering to retract the original request for cast ballots, which did not fundamentally alter the legal and ethical problems associated with the unprecedented scope of the original subpoenas.

“We commend the State Board for taking steps to defend the privacy interests of North Carolina voters and to prevent likely unlawful fishing expeditions by the federal government that tends to fuel voter suppression and intimidation efforts,” said Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “North Carolina’s voters can participate in this election with confidence that their State Board of Elections will not shrink from their duty to protect the secrecy of their ballots. And we genuinely hope that the Department of Justice and ICE will get the message that we will not allow anyone to declare open season on North Carolina voters.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Subpoenas Local Election Boards for Troves of Information in Apparent Fishing Expedition, Undermining 2018 Election Administration

 

 

RALEIGH, N.C.– Assistant U.S. Attorney Sebastian Kielmanovich recently issued subpoenas to Boards of Elections in all 44 counties in North Carolina’s Federal Eastern District on behalf of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  While the exact timing of the issuance of the subpoenas is not clear, they became public knowledge on September 4 after an email was sent to all members of the local boards and redacted subpoena language was posted to Twitter.

 

The subpoenas seek “all poll books, e-poll books, voting records, and/or voter authorization documents, executed official ballots that were submitted to, filed by, received by, and/or maintained by” the local board of elections “from August 30, 2013 to August 30, 2018.”  See: http://bit.ly/ICEAttachment

 

“The timing and scope of these subpoenas from ICE raise very troubling questions about the necessity and wisdom of federal interference with the pending statewide elections,” said Kareem Crayton, Interim Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.  “With so many well-established threats to our election process from abroad, it is odd to see federal resources directed to this particular concern.  We are closely monitoring the handling of these subpoenas and will keep all legal options on the table to ensure that communities in our state enjoy an election process free from meddling and intimidation.”

 

This is part of a pattern in North Carolina.  On August 17, 2018, the Department of Justice announced federal prosecutions of nineteen individuals in the Eastern District alleged to have voted while ineligible. Both the prosecutions and the new federal subpoenas come after a number of counties in the state decided not to prosecute ineligible voters who voted in the 2016 election.  Most of those instances included voters who were ineligible due to the fact that they were still technically serving an active felony sentence by being on probation or parole, and these voters did not realize they were still ineligible to vote.  Despite most counties declining to prosecute cases because of the lack of nefarious intent on the part of the voters, the State Board of Elections & Ethics enforcement is still referring cases of ineligible voters in the 2016 election to district attorneys for prosecution.

 

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) represented five citizens in Alamance County who were charged with voting while ineligible due to an active felony sentence.  All of those cases resulted in misdemeanor pleas deals that included no admission of guilt and the dismissal of the voting-related charges.  SCSJ is concerned that the efforts in North Carolina to criminalize the ballot box and drum up evidence of “voter fraud” may be replicated on a much larger scale.

 

“This is clearly a fishing expedition that picks up where the Pence-Kobach Commission stopped.  This administration appears to be outsourcing the Commission’s discredited agenda to U.S. Attorneys, thus wasting our local election administrators’ valuable time and resources, many of which had been focused on ensuring our upcoming elections are free from foreign interference,” said Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “It’s ironic, and clearly a political exercise, that an administration that has benefited from foreign election interference is now seeking to burden local election administrators in a way that will impede them in their efforts to safeguard against that same interference in the upcoming election.”

 

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Plaintiffs Victory in Partisan Gerrymandering Case Shifts Focus Back to Supreme Court

The Supreme Court could hear case in the 2018-19 term in time for new maps in 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, a three-judge panel in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina reaffirmed its decision from January striking down the state’s congressional map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.  The decision in League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho was issued after the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to the district court to consider whether or not the plaintiffs had standing to bring the case.  In today’s decision, the lower court confirmed that in the consolidated cases, plaintiffs have standing to challenge each of the 13 congressional districts.  It is expected that today’s decision will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could hear the case in the upcoming term that begins in October.

Today’s opinion can be found at http://bit.ly/PartisanGerrymanderingNC

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ), Campaign Legal Center (CLC), and University of Chicago Professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos represent the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and 12 individual North Carolina plaintiffs.

“Once again, a bipartisan panel of judges agree that the legislature went too far in its efforts to gerrymander election districts in a way that discriminates against voters based on their political beliefs and predetermines the outcome of elections before a single vote is cast,”said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “Elections should have consequences.  Unfortunately, every congressional election in North Carolina so far this decade has deprived the voters of the ability to hold elected officials accountable through the democratic process.  The court recognized that such actions are unconstitutional.  The people of North Carolina deserve better.”

Should the case be heard this term, as expected, North Carolina voters could have fair and legal maps drawn in time to be used in the 2020 elections. The case has the potential to reshape future redistricting nationwide by limiting politicians’ ability to discriminate against voters who favor a minority party as those politicians control the process of drawing electoral districts.

“North Carolina has had one of the most severely gerrymandered maps in modern American history for almost a full decade, and it can no longer stand,” said Ruth Greenwood, senior legal counsel, voting rights and redistricting at CLC. “This fall, North Carolina voters are about to endure their fourth election cycle with a blatantly gerrymandered congressional map. Given the timing, we expect the Supreme Court to hear this case in the upcoming 2018-2019 term. Our clients in North Carolina are ready for a ruling from the Supreme Court that finally declares that voters, not lawmakers, come first.”

A companion case, brought by lead plaintiff Common Cause and others, also moves forward with today’s decision.  The earlier findings by the district court as to the violation of the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights were also reiterated today.

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Lee County NAACP’s Year of Racial Equity a Success

Fort Myers, F.L. — The School District of Lee County and the Lee County, Florida Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) signed an agreement today to settle a civil rights complaint the NAACP filed in 2017.

“I am extremely pleased to have signed this agreement,” said Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins. “The District is committed to every student reaching their potential.  We have worked hard to demonstrate our commitment to diversity, fair discipline and educational success.  It has been a truly positive experience to work with the NAACP on this agreement and we look forward to seeing our students succeed.”

The agreement calls on the District to continue six current practices:

  • Fund the Office of Diversity and Inclusion
  • Use restorative practices and alternatives to suspension
  • Provide ongoing training about structural racism, implicit bias and disparities
  • Review student disciplinary processes and gather community input
  • Allocate resources in a manner that allows schools that are in the most need to receive additional funding
  • Data already collected on referrals for discipline, referrals to law enforcement and expulsions will now be shared with other schools

The agreement calls on the District to add to new practices:

  • Convey quarterly community forums and public conversations
  • Provide training on the appropriate use and engagement of School Resource Officers

In return for continuing or adopting these practices the NAACP will drop the civil rights complaint filed with the US Department of Education in September 2017.  The complaint alleged black students were disciplined disproportionately to white students and disproportionately held back, dropping out or not graduating.

“Today’s agreement is not the end of the story, but rather the beginning of a new chapter,” said James Muwakkil, President of the Lee County NAACP. “We believe the steps outlined in this resolution will set a much needed foundation as we build towards racial equity in our schools. There is much work to be done. We are pleased now to have the school system as an ally in the effort to make sure students of color do not get left behind.”

Information about the community forums required under the agreement will be released as those quarterly events are scheduled.  Protocols and training for staff use of the SRO will also now be developed and implemented.  The practices already in place will continue to be used and updated as necessary.

To find a signed copy of the agreement, click here.

Statement Regarding Alamance County Voters Accused of Voting While Ineligible

GRAHAM, N.C. – Five voters represented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) charged with voting while ineligible accepted plea deals to lesser charges in Alamance County Superior Court today.  As part of the deal, prosecutors dropped all felony voting-related charges.

SCSJ clients Anthony Haith, Neko Rogers, Whitney Brown, Keith Sellars and Willie Vinson, Jr. pled to a lesser charge – misdemeanor obstruction of justice.  As part of the plea, the five individuals will each complete 24 hours of community service, be placed on unsupervised probation for 12 months, and offer no admission of guilt to any voting-related charges.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice issued the following statement after the pleas deals were accepted by the court:

“Our clients had to make a hard decision.  They believe that the law they were initially charged under was enacted in 1901 with an intent to discriminate against people of color and intimidate communities from voting.  Such a law is unconstitutional.

“What happened in the courtroom today is nothing new, though.  Far too often, people plead to lesser charges, even when justice is on their side, in order to avoid the possibility of facing time in prison, being separated from their families, losing their jobs, and disrupting their lives and the lives of those around them.  Similar events happen every day in courtrooms across the country.

“Our communities deserve better.  No one should have to face the possibility of prison time for the act of casting a vote that they believed they were eligible to cast. These charges sought to punish people whose only intent was to participate in our democracy.  All of the charges should have been dismissed and the law that led to these prosecutions should be deemed unconstitutional.”

Federal Voter Intimidation Case in Virginia Moves Forward

Judge denies motion to dismiss in LULAC of Richmond v. Public Interest Legal Foundation

ALEXANDRIA, V.A. – U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady of the Eastern District of Virginia denied a motion to dismiss a voter intimidation and defamation lawsuit against J. Christian Adams and the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF). The case will be moving forward. PILF is an organization headed by Adams and the suit was brought by four individuals and the Richmond Chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).  The lawsuit was filed in April 2018, and alleges that Adams and PILF knowingly misrepresented the contents of public records and falsely accused innocent Virginians of felony voter fraud.

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.  

“We appreciate that the court has acknowledged that this case should be allowed to proceed,” said Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “We are confident that this litigation will ultimately result in a ruling that the sort of intimidation and defamation laid out in this case harms voters and has no place in our democracy.”

Plaintiffs’ claims of intimidation and defamation stem from 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.

“Both the Voting Rights Act and the Ku Klux Klan Act guarantee every eligible voter the right to vote free from intimidation,” said Cameron Kistler of Protect Democracy.  “We are looking forward to this case moving forward so that our clients can have their day in court.”

Today’s order can be read at: https://www.southerncoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/LULAC-MTD-Order.pdf

The initial complaint can be read at http://bit.ly/LULACRichmondComplaint

More information about this case can be found at https://www.southerncoalition.org/lulacvpilf/

U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Hear North Carolina’s Partisan Gerrymandering Case at the Present

Rucho v. League of Women Voters of NC sent back to District Court for reconsideration

WASHINGTON D.C. — Following its decision last week clarifying the standard for assessing whether challengers have standing to raise partisan gerrymandering claims, the U.S. Supreme Court sent North Carolina’s partisan gerrymandering challenge, Rucho v. League of Women Voters of North Carolina, back to a federal district court today for further analysis in light of the Whitford decision. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the Campaign Legal Center represent the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and individual plaintiffs in the case which has been combined with a parallel partisan gerrymandering challenge, Rucho v. Common Cause.

The decision to remand the case comes a week after the Supreme Court remanded two other partisan gerrymandering cases.  It is not an unexpected outcome.  In January 2018, a federal three-judge panel found the state’s U.S. Congressional plan to be an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander on multiple legal theories of injury.  Legislative defendants appealed that ruling, setting up today’s action from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, issued the following statement after the U.S. Supreme Court’s action:

“While it’s unfortunate that the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear this case right away, we are optimistic that the lower court will recognize, like they did in January, that North Carolina’s partisan gerrymandering is so egregious that it is unconstitutional and that our clients are the appropriate parties to be raising such claims.  The harm done to voters when they are packed and cracked into districts by that discriminate against them based on their political affiliations is clear and we will continue to pursue justice for our clients and all voters who deserve fair election districts. We hope to get this case back before the U.S. Supreme Court next term, in time for fair districts for 2020.”

Paul Smith, vice president of litigation and strategy at Campaign Legal Center, who argued Gill v. Whitford before the Court, issued the following statements after today’s decision:

“Americans overwhelmingly support the Supreme Court stepping in to end partisan gerrymandering, and that door is still open. The justices have returned the partisan gerrymander challenges from North Carolina, Wisconsin and Maryland to the lower courts with a clear roadmap of what it expects to see presented, and we plan to follow their guidance.”

More about Rucho v. League of Women Voters of North Carolina:

The partisan gerrymandering challenge was filed in September 2016 in the Middle District of North Carolina, where a three-judge panel was appointed to hear the case.

The challenge was heard in a four day trial in Greensboro, North Carolina, in October 2017.

On January 9, 2018, the three-judge panel found that North Carolina’s 2016 Congressional Plan that was adopted in February 2016 violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and Article I, Sections 2 and 4, of the United States Constitution. It does so by burdening voters’ freedom of speech and freedom to associate based on their political beliefs, as well as, by treating voters unequally by diluting the electoral influence of one party’s supporters.

On January 18, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay in the North Carolina case.  The lower court’s ruling was put on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court consideredWhitford v. Gill and Benisek v. Lamone, partisan gerrymandering challenges from Wisconsin and Maryland, respectively.

On June 18, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court remanded the Wisconsin and Maryland cases back to lower courts on technical grounds without ruling on the merits or standards put forth in the cases.

On June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court remanded the Rucho v. League of Women Voters of North Carolina back to the federal district court to assess whether the decision in Whitford has any bearing on their January 2018 ruling.

Mother of Niecey Fennell Speaks Out on Critical Safety Issues at Durham Detention Center


Durham, N.C.
— Attorneys for the family of Uniece “Niecey” Fennell, who was found deceased, hanging in the Durham County Detention Facility (DCDF) in March 2017, have again called upon the Durham County Board of Commissioners to address critical safety issues at the facility in the county’s 2018-19 fiscal budget. Adding to remarks made at a public comment period last week, attorneys at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice released a video of Julia Graves, Niecey’s mother, recounting her experience and the devastation her daughter’s death caused to her family.

Fennell was 16 years old when she was placed in DCDF with adult detainees. Durham County remains one of a small number of jurisdictions in America that continues to house children with adult detainees. It is also one of very few jurisdictions nationwide to have had a child die in its detention facility. The county’s practice of co-housing children and adults directly conflicts with standards adopted by Congress in 2003 with the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). PREA requires total sight and sound separation of adults and children in detention facilities. According to a study by the Equal Justice Institute, children housed with adults are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in adult facilities than when housed in juvenile facilities.

On Monday, June 11, 2018, SCSJ attorneys Ian Mance and Whitley Carpenter spoke on behalf of Julia Graves, Niecey Fennell’s mother, at a public meeting of the Durham County Commissioners. Mance and Carpenter highlighted the County’s slow response to addressing known hanging hazards in the jail, as well as its continued failure to meet critical federal standards designed to ensure the safety of child detainees. In the last 20 years, 22 people have died in the Durham County Detention Facility, the majority of them a result of suicide.

SCSJ continues to advocate that children charged as adults in Durham County need to have their own physical space where they are not subject to threats and bullying from adult detainees.

To view the County Board of Commissioners video featuring the statements made by SCSJ (28:18 to 33:20), a local teacher (33:45 to 33:25), and a student from Niecey’s high school (35:40 to 37:15), click the following link: http://durhamcounty.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=1070

For the full written statement made by SCSJ at the meeting, click the following link: https://www.southerncoalition.org/statement-june-11-durham-county-board-commissioners-meeting/

U.S. Supreme Court Partisan Gerrymandering Ruling’s Impact on North Carolina

WASHINGTON D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court issued opinions on June 18, 2018, in two partisan gerrymandering cases, Gill v. Whitford (Wisconsin) and Besinek v. Lamone (Maryland). The Wisconsin case has been sent back down to the district court to reconsider issues related to standing. The ruling in the Maryland case affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction of a district map before an upcoming election. Both of the rulings can be found at https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/slipopinion/17

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the Campaign Legal Center represent plaintiffs in the North Carolina partisan gerrymandering case that has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In that case, League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho (which has been combined with Common Cause v. Rucho), a federal three-judge panel found the state’s U.S. Congressional plan to be an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander in January 2018 on multiple legal theories of injury.

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 in Gill v. Whitford:

“The U.S. Supreme Court did not define any standard today that would be applicable to determining the merits of a partisan gerrymandering claim. Today’s opinions were largely procedural and indicate the Court’s desire to keep the door open for further discussion about partisan gerrymandering. Multiple statements in the opinions indicate that this practice, when it becomes egregious and discriminatory, crosses the line to become unconstitutional.”

“North Carolina remains the most crystal clear example of why a rule creating limits on partisan gerrymandering is so necessary. The record evidence of constitutional injury presented in our case is overwhelming–legislators intentionally cracked and packed millions of North Carolina voters to silence their political voice. We look forward to the opportunity to argue our case on the merits before the U.S. Supreme Court, where we do not have the same procedural issues that prevented a substantive ruling in the cases decided today.”

Paul Smith, vice president of litigation and strategy at Campaign Legal Center (CLC) who argued Whitford v. Gill at the U.S. Supreme Court, issued the following statement about the Whitford decision after today’s ruling:

“When legislators draw voting maps to favor one party over another and to stay in power, voters no longer have a voice in the political process. Extreme partisan gerrymandering is increasingly getting worse – damaging our democracy and eroding voters’ confidence in our system. We will continue advancing efforts, in this case and others as well as through the political process, to end this practice and safeguard every citizen’s fundamental right to vote and have it count.”

 

More about the League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho:

Like in Whitford v.Gill, plaintiffs in the North Carolina partisan gerrymandering case asked for the same standard to be adopted in their initial complaint filing in September 2016.

Specifically, plaintiffs asked for a three-pronged analysis to determine when partisan discrimination in the redistricting is unconstitutional. That analysis involves a three-part test: (1) showing discriminatory intent; (2) showing discriminatory effect, which can be shown through the use of a measure called the efficiency gap; and (3) showing a map’s imbalance is not justified by a state’s political geography or legitimate redistricting objectives.

In January 2018, a three-judge panel in North Carolina’s Middle District federal court North Carolina’s 2016 Congressional Plan that was adopted in February 2016 violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. It does so by burdening voters’ freedom of speech and freedom to associate based on their political beliefs, as well as, by treating voters unequally by diluting the electoral influence of one party’s supporters.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay in the North Carolina case in January 2018. The lower court’s ruling was put on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court considered Whitford v. Gill and Benisek v. Lamone, a partisan gerrymandering case from Maryland.

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SCSJ Condemns Reduction in Weekend Early Voting Opportunities, Calls for Veto of Changes

Changes target voting options preferred by African-American voters

RALEIGH, N.C. – With the passage of SB 325, the North Carolina General Assembly has approved changes to the state’s early voting procedures whose limitations would likely disproportionately affect African American voters and put greater strain on election resources in rural communities.  The bill mandates that early voting periods end on the Friday before an election, eliminating early voting opportunities on the Saturday before an election — a day on which hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians have cast their ballots in previous elections. It also requires voting sites in a county to have uniform hours — so all sites must be open if any are open, regardless of the frequency of their use.

“We all know — and the legislature knows — that African-American voters make use of the last Saturday of early voting more than other groups,” said Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “We’ve endured this outrageous song and dance before.  Efforts to dilute or undermine the voting strength of African Americans are illegal and undemocratic.  We strongly urge Gov. Cooper to veto this bill.”

In 2014, the most recent midterm election, 103,513 voters — almost 1 in 10 early voters (9.41%) — cast their ballots on the last Saturday of early voting.  In 2016, African American voters, who made up 20.6% of voters in the 2016 general election, accounted for 28.9% of voters on the last Saturday or early voting.

Another provision in the bill requires that any time one early voting site in a county is open, all other early voting sites in that county must also be open. This rigid rule is blind to the facts on the ground and is likely to create a strain on election officials.  Its application can make it prohibitively expensive for officials to offer weekend early voting access and to open an adequate number of early voting sites in a county.  

Local election boards use varied hours to maximize resources and open voting sites in areas and at times that make sense for their communities.  In the 2018 primary, 46 counties offered varied times at satellite sites during early voting in response to demand.  In 2014, the most recent midterm election, 55 counties took advantage of the flexibility provided by the current statute.

“Local election boards and advocates working with their local boards often know best how to make sure their community members have opportunities to vote.  For rural counties in particular, mandating the expensive task of running every county site throughout early voting will lead to fewer early voting locations,” said Riggs.  “Despite the efforts to muddy the water with specious  claims about the need for uniformity, it’s clear that this bill achieves one thing and one thing only: making it harder to for North Carolinians to vote.  Gov. Cooper should demand that voting remains easily accessible for all voters and veto this bill.”

To read the bill language, click here.