SCSJ Attorney Testifies Before NC House Elections Committee on Voter ID

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice was invited to speak to the North Carolina House Elections Committee, specifically to offer relevant information and answer questions on voter ID legislation.  Allison Riggs spoke to the committee on Wednesday, March 13, urging them to reject such legislation because of the disparate impact that a photo ID requirement would have on low-income voters, voters of color, women, and the elderly.  Her testimony is here: NC House Elections Committee Testimony 3 13 2013 FINAL

Read news coverage here:

Why the Voting Rights Act Makes Sense

On February 1st the Southern Coalition of Social Justice filed an amicus brief in Shelby County v. Holder on behalf of numerous political science and law professors.  The brief highlights the wealth of available empirical data supporting the rationality of the formula that Congress used to determine which jurisdictions would and would not be covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Shelby County v. Holder is a case in which plaintiffs are challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  The United States Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, limited to the question of whether Congress’ decision when reauthorizing the Act in 2006 to retain the coverage formula previously employed—whereby Section 5 only applies to 16 states, in whole or part — was rational. These states and counties are ones with a history of discrimination in voting. 

By presenting a comprehensive summary of empirical evidence showing the ongoing differences between covered and non-covered jurisdictions, the political science and law professors’ brief demonstrates resoundingly the rationality of the coverage formula and the continuing need for Section 5’s protections for voters of color in covered jurisdictions.  For example, the brief highlights numerous national surveys and academic studies that reveal that negative racial attitudes among whites are significantly more prevalent in covered jurisdictions.  Another example highlighted in the brief is the disparity between covered and non-covered jurisdictions in employment discrimination—Covered jurisdictions are the sites of a disproportionate share of job discrimination and retaliation findings.  All of these factors influence the ability of voters of color to participate fully and equally in the political process.

This brief will provide the Court with invaluable evidence necessary to reach the unavoidable conclusion that it must uphold Section 5 and its coverage formula.  The amicus brief can be found here:  Shelby Amicus Brief.      


SCSJ’s Client Eva Foster Seeks Justice

Eva Foster, 87, a jazz legend and well-respected member of the community in Greensboro, is supported by the Beloved Community Center and other groups as she seeks compensation from the Greensboro Police Department for injuries she suffered three years ago when she was unjustly handcuffed by the police during a raid on a convenience store.  In December, 2012, the City agreed to pay Ms. Foster $15,000 to settle her case.  Left unresolved, however, are what steps the Greensboro Police Department and the City of Greensboro have taken to make sure this does not happen to anyone else in the future.

Case closed: Two years later, remaining Buen Pastor defendants free of deportation threat

It was Easter weekend in 2010 when members of a small Hispanic church, Iglesia Buen Pastor, while returning from a religious exercise in Texas, were pulled over by federal agents in Louisiana for looking suspiciously like they might be immigrants — undocumented immigrants, even. Those with no children were deported immediately. Those with children were threatened with deportation, and they’ve been fighting it since. We reported on their case last year. Today, we have good news from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. They won’t be deported.

And it only took two years —

Immigration Charges Dropped For 22 Raleigh Church Members After A Stressful Two Year Legal Battle Raleigh, NC- Late last week 22 members of the Buen Pastor Church received final confirmation that the Department of Homeland Security is no longer seeking to have them deported. They had been stopped and detained by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) in Lake Charles, Louisiana on April 15, 2010, on their return home from Holy Week festivities in Houston, Texas. The church members were awaiting their deportation when they received the news that their cases had been closed.

They were subjected to civil rights and due process violations throughout their interaction with CBP including racial profiling, threats to place their children in foster care and mockery for their religious dress. Five of those involved in the proceedings were under 18.

Jorge Calderon, who attends the Buen Pastor church with his wife and two young children shared, “When I heard the news that our case was administratively closed I prayed with my family in thanks to God. We were haunted by what happened. The uncertainty of our future brought emotional stress into our lives, especially for my children. Their friends, their school and their lives are here and I could not tell them whether we would have to leave.”

Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ), which provides legal, organizing media and research support to community organizations, provided ongoing support to the church since October 2010. Attorney Elizabeth Simpson, who co-defended them with the SCSJ since 2010, said, “This case was a long shot; we had justice on our side but not the law. However, we did not consider giving up for a minute, and the lives of 22 individuals have been fundamentally changed because of that. They can imagine their futures now.”

Thanks to the “Morton Memo”, a policy released by John Morton, director of Homeland Security, in June 2011, DHS officials were empowered to use their discretion to administratively close immigration cases of individuals in deportation proceedings who do not pose a public safety risk, have been in this country for numerous years, and have filed civil rights claims among other criteria. The church members were among a handful of cases in North Carolina granted administrative closure.

Simpson said, “The reason we won this case is because of the multiple strategies employed. Alongside the legal work, the church members led a public pressure campaign and I think that was the tipping point”. The case drew attention and sympathy of supporters across the country. For the last two years church members have held vigils and rallies to talk about the abuses they experienced. They organized a petition sending over 900 signatures to Immigration officials. These are strategies that have been used by immigrant youth who have successfully stopped their deportations.

This case exposed the reality of abuse facing many immigrant communities. “What we won is a significant victory but it is only a stop-gap solution for the church members,” according to Rebecca Fontaine, community organizer with SCSJ. “Under our current immigration system we are facing a human rights crisis. We need to keep working for systemic change. ”

Elizabeth Simpson was an immigration legal fellow with the Southern Coalition with SCSJ from Sept 2010 to Sept 2011. She is currently a staff attorney at Prisoner Legal Services. 

Posted by  on Tue, Sep 18, 2012 at 3:48 PM
From The Independent Weekly 

Federal Court Finds Texas Voting Maps Discriminatory

HOUSTON — A federal court in Washington ruled on Tuesday that political maps drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature in Texas discriminated against minority voters, a decision that black and Hispanic groups claimed as a victory and the state attorney general vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia Circuit found that a set of maps for Congressional, State House and State Senate districts drawn by the Legislature failed to comply with part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They denied granting so-called preclearance to the maps, because in some cases districts drawn to look like Hispanic ones on paper would actually perform to the benefit of candidates preferred by white voters.

They denied granting so-called preclearance to the maps, because in some cases districts drawn to look like Hispanic ones on paper would actually perform to the benefit of candidates preferred by white voters.

The decision’s immediate impact was unclear. It appears unlikely to affect the November elections because those electoral maps were drawn as interim replacements by a federal court in San Antonio. The interim maps were not at issue before the judges in Washington.

Gov. Rick Perry signed the Legislature’s maps into law last summer. But the federal court in Washington refused to grant preclearance, prompting the San Antonio judicial panel to create the interim maps to allow this year’s elections to proceed. The federal judges in Washington presided over a trial in January and issued their decision on Tuesday.

The Texas attorney general, Greg Abbott, who is representing the state, said he would appeal the decision. “Today’s decision extends the Voting Rights Act beyond the limits intended by Congress and beyond the boundaries imposed by the Constitution,” Mr. Abbott said in a statement.

Michael Li, an election law lawyer in Dallas who runs a Web site following the case,, said that because the Washington court had no power to fix the maps — only to decide whether to grant or deny preclearance — the case now moves back to Texas, where the federal judges in San Antonio will most likely fix the problems identified by the Washington court. They also may let the Legislature try to redraw the maps.

The judges in Washington found that one largely Hispanic Congressional district in South Texas that includes Corpus Christi had its minority voting strength diluted when it was redrawn to a majority-Anglo district. In the 23rd Congressional District in West Texas, the judges ruled that drawers “consciously replaced many of the district’s active Hispanic voters with low-turnout Hispanic voters in an effort to strengthen the voting power of C.D. 23’s Anglo citizens,” reducing Hispanic voting power “without making it look like anything in C.D. 23 had changed.”

The judges found that the Congressional map as a whole was enacted with a “discriminatory purpose,” and they cited the concerns of black and Hispanic members of Congress who testified that they were excluded from the process of drafting the maps. In addition, several minority Congress members had the economic generators of their districts and their own district offices removed in the maps, though, as the judges pointed out, “no such surgery was performed on the districts of Anglo incumbents.”

Lawyers for Mr. Abbott argued that the maps were drawn to help Republicans maintain power but not to discriminate, and that drawers did not know where district offices were located.

State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat who is the chairman of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, one of a number of black and Hispanic groups that sued the state, called Tuesday’s decision a proud moment for voting rights in Texas.

“I think it clearly is a representation of the obvious, of what we have been saying all this time,” Mr. Fischer said, “that the face of the state of Texas is changed by the day, yet our political lines and our political representation still represents the views of a very old and different Texas.”

From The New York Times
Published: August 28, 2012

Racial Justice Act supporters push to sustain veto of new bill

Death penalty opponents and advocates of the state’s Racial Justice Act have embarked on an intense petition drive, letter-writing and email campaign, targeting five Democrats in the state House of Representatives.

The goal is to persuade the representatives to sustain the governor’s Thursday veto of the legislature’s overhaul of the Racial Justice Act. The Senate is expected to vote to override on Monday. The House will follow that day or Tuesday with a vote in which at least four of the five conservative Democrats will have to join Republicans, if all members are present, to give them the three-fifths majority to override.

Within hours of the governor’s veto, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a civil rights advocacy firm based in Durham with the backing of other state and national civil rights organizations, delivered a petition with 5,000 signatures to policymakers. Their focus was strongly on Rep. William D. Brisson, a Bladen County Democrat; Rep. James W. Crawford Jr., a Granville County Democrat; Rep. Dewey L. Hill, a Brunswick County Democrat; Rep. Bill Owens, a Camden County Democrat, and Rep. Timothy L. Spear, a Washington County Democrat.

The North Carolina Council of Churches, an organization long committed to ending the death penalty and an advocate of a moratorium on executions, issued a directive on Friday urging people to contact Brisson, Hill and Owens. Owens has said he would vote to override, and Crawford would not say.

The Racial Justice Act, adopted in 2009, allows death row inmates to use statistics when challenging their sentences using racial bias claims. If racial bias played a role in their case, a judge can convert a death sentence to life in prison without opportunity for parole.

In April, a Cumberland County judge found that racial bias played a part in the case of Marcus Robinson, the first of more than 150 death row inmates seeking relief under the Racial Justice Act.

Then the legislature made sweeping changes to the law this summer, trying to limit the use of statistics.

Words for the swing votes

In their appeal to the five House Democrats to sustain the governor’s veto, petitioners are urging the lawmakers to consider the findings Cumberland County Judge Gregory Weeks made in the first Racial Justice Act case.

The judge found evidence that the jury selection process in capital cases, both statewide and locally, had systematically excluded blacks.

The recent court findings of systematic intentional exclusion of people of color from capital juries, an action that taints and undermines equal justice, were the result of a measured and well-litigated adversarial process,”

Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition, said in a statement.

They are fully supported by reliable evidence and deserve respect. In light of these findings, we are particularly troubled by recent efforts to repeal or ‘amend’ the Racial Justice Act, which will prohibit a judge from ever examining similar evidence in future cases. It is deeply wrong to turn a blind eye to the truth of how our criminal justice system has operated in the past.”

The Rev. William Barber, head of the state chapter of the NAACP, also had strong words for the five House Democrats.

For a Southern legislature to do what they are doing in the face of proven racial disparities is wrong reprehensible and contrary to the fundamental American principle of equal justice,”

Barber said.

Barber further noted that all black members of the legislative caucus were against gutting the Racial Justice Act while all those who supported the overhaul were white.

Executions on hold

There has not been an execution in this state since 2006 when a series of lawsuits filed on behalf of death row inmates created a de facto moratorium.

Then all but a few of the 156 death row inmates sought relief from their sentences under the Racial Justice Act.

Though it might have been the intent of the legislature to resume executions with this new bill changing the Racial Justice Act, opponents of capital punishment say the practical effect could be just the opposite.

It will just add another layer of lawsuits,”

projected Ken Rose, a lawyer at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation based in Durham.

Rose said death row inmates who sought relief under the 2009 law likely would challenge any changes that prohibited them from having hearings in their cases.

Despite legislative attempts to address that issue by saying the law did not apply to the case of Robinson – the death row inmate whose case was heard first – the legal challenges that might come from other death row inmates excluded from similar hearings could keep the de facto moratorium in place for years as those judges consider the cases.

But House Majority Leader Paul “Skip” Stam, a Republican from Apex and key author of the current bill, said Saturday that changing the Racial Justice Act would end up reducing litigation by a few years. He said the Racial Justice Act added about six years to a process that typically lasts right up until execution.

Peg Dorer, executive director of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, agreed.

Extensive litigation is the name of the game with death penalty opponents,” she said in an email Saturday. “When they know that a majority of citizens in North Carolina support a death penalty, their only option is to continue to stall, tangling the system up with litigation.”

Staff writer Craig Jarvis contributed.

From The News and Observer
Blythe: 919-836-4948
PUBLISHED SAT, JUN 30, 2012 06:06 PM



Redistricting lawsuits move on

RALEIGH — A pair of lawsuits challenging North Carolina’s new Republican-penned boundaries for congressional and legislative seats can move forward, a three-judge panel said Monday.

The Superior Court judges refused to dismiss the lawsuits, and threw out less than half of the 37 claims offered by attorneys for Democratic elected officials, civil rights groups, election-watchdog agencies and voters.

Lawyers for the state and legislative leaders had wanted the lawsuits thrown out.

The crux of the argument within the consolidated lawsuits remains intact. Plaintiffs claim state or federal constitutions prohibit mapmakers from splitting voting precincts excessively, creating boundaries that fracture too many counties and gerrymandering based predominantly on racial considerations.

Lawsuits won’t delay primary

Although the maps for the state House and Senate and for U.S. congressional districts will still be used for this year’s May primary, the ruling means a significant portion of the case can move along to trial.

We are pleased that the major claims in the lawsuit remain,”

Scott Falmlen, a spokesman for the Democratic elected officials and voters who sued, said in an emailed statement.

We look forward to the opportunity to fully prove the significant constitutional flaws in all three redistricting plans and the manner in which those plans violate the rights of all North Carolina citizens.”

The judges declined on Jan. 20 to delay the May elections until July, deciding the extra two months still wouldn’t leave enough time to fully resolve the case.

The judges gave no explanation for Monday’s decision in their two-page ruling, but the refusal to dismiss the lawsuits wasn’t surprising. Wake County Judge Paul Ridgeway said in court last month that

the careful consideration of the plaintiffs’ arguments must go on, and this court will continue to balance these arguments against the thoughtful, serious and compelling arguments raised in defense of the plans.”

Sen. Bob Rucho, the Mecklenburg Republican who chaired the Senate Redistricting Committee, said he thinks the remaining claims will be thrown out after evidence is collected and presented in court.

“We would expect our maps to be vindicated completely,”

he said.

Last month’s ruling means candidate filing for the May 8 primary will begin on time Monday. Attorneys for the groups said neither would challenge the primary delay ruling.

Attorney Anita Earls said her clients, who include the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Democracy North Carolina,

“are making plans to ensure that voters in split precincts in the May primary do not experience confusion or long lines.”

Those challenging the maps argue that the 563 split precincts drawn by Republicans will make it hard for many living within them to vote and create two tiers of voters.

Attorneys defending the maps contend there’s no constitutional right to undivided precincts, and point out the boundaries have been approved by U.S. Department of Justice attorneys based on a portion of the Voting Rights Act.

The judges let stand arguments that the map violated the state constitution’s “whole county provision” and other clauses in the state and federal constitutions designed to prevent racial discrimination.


PUBLISHED TUE, FEB 07, 2012 04:07 AM
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