U.S. Supreme Court Again Sides with Plaintiffs Who Brought Racial Gerrymandering Challenge

Most of the court-ordered plan that includes Special Master’s districts to remain in place

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court issued a per curiam decision today, largely affirming a lower court’s ruling in North Carolina v. Covington and upholding most of the court-ordered map with some districts redrawn by a Special Master. The court requested recommendations from a Special Master after plaintiffs successfully challenged the redistricting plan enacted by the state legislature in 2017 on the grounds that racially discriminatory districts still persisted.  The U.S. Supreme Court upheld those districts but held that the lower court did not need to determine whether other districts complied with the state constitution.

 

“Thanks to the dedication of the plaintiffs in this case, voters in North Carolina will finally be able to vote in state legislative districts drawn without unconstitutional racial discrimination,”  Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who represents plaintiffs in the case.  “The order from the Supreme Court today sends the message loud and clear that discrimination, even if hidden under a self-proclaimed veil of ignorance, will not be tolerated in the redistricting process.  We’re glad to see the district court’s careful, well-documented findings on this front affirmed.”

 

Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, a three-judge panel for the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina found that the 2011 redistricting plan contained 28 racial gerrymanders among its state House and Senate districts.

 

After plaintiffs raised concerns about the remedy redistricting plan enacted by the state legislature in 2017, the three-judge panel appointed an expert Special Master to alter nine state legislative districts the Court identified that failed to adequately remedy the racial discrimination or otherwise violated the state constitution.  The Special Master’s recommendations were incorporated into the state redistricting plan ordered to be enacted by the three-judge panel.

 

On February 6, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block the district court’s order. However, 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 are in effect for the 2018 state legislative elections.

 

“While it’s unfortunate that this process has dragged on for almost the entirety of the decade–to the great detriment of voters in this state–we’re gratified to be vindicated once again,” stated Allison Riggs. “We’re certain the state courts will correct the state constitutional violations before the 2020 elections, as we already have the trial court in NAACP v. Lewis finding that we are likely to succeed on the merits, but importantly, we have finally achieved our clients’ goals for this litigation: to eradicate the blatantly unconstitutional sorting of voters by race in North Carolina’s state legislative districts.”

 

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.

 

On February 6, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block the district court’s order. However, the Supreme Court did stay revisions to a small number of districts that violate the state constitution, however.

 

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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.

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.

SCSJ challenges NC law that punishes returning citizens with felonies for voting while ineligible

On June 8, 2018, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed motions to dismiss on behalf of five clients in Alamance County who were charged with voting while being ineligible due to a criminal conviction.   

In our the motions, SCSJ asks the court to recognize the unconstitutionality of the criminal statute that allows the state to seek a felony conviction against a person who casts a vote in a primary or general election before that person has completed probation and returned to full citizenship. As stated in the motion, the statute (N.C.G.S. § 163-275(5)) “violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, § 19 of the North Carolina Constitution, in that the crime was created on the basis of racial animus with the specific purpose to suppress the votes of African Americans in North Carolina, and it continues to have a disparate impact on the basis of race.” (Motion to Dismiss on behalf of Whitney Brown, p.1).

The full motion can be read at  http://bit.ly/AlamanceMotiontoDismiss

 

On the origins of the crime

Under current North Carolina law, a person who engages in voter intimidation or breaks up an election “by force or violence” commits a mere misdemeanor. However, a person who casts a single vote before being returned to full citizenship commits a felony subject to up to two years of imprisonment. Our state criminal laws have maintained this backward distinction for over a century, because our statutes criminalizing voting have been re-codified virtually unchanged since they were enacted by an openly racist legislature that came to power through voter intimidation and promises to strip the vote from African Americans by all available means.

 Prior to 1900, North Carolina’s Constitution did not expressly exclude those previously convicted of felonies from the right of suffrage. The state also had no poll tax or literacy test. All of this changed with the Suffrage Amendment ratified in 1900 and the general election law passed the following year. These changes to state law, which included the enactment of the statute under which Ms. Brown has been charged came after an open campaign to disenfranchise an emergent African American electorate and install White Supremacy in North Carolina.

In its 1898 party handbook, the Democratic Party estimated with alarm that a third of this state’s 360,000 votes were cast by African Americans. The handbook declared that it was “the special mission of the Democratic Party to rescue the white people of the east from negro domination.” Among the evils the party claimed it needed to guard against was the threat of African Americans registering those who were ineligible due to criminal convictions. This was seen as a particular threat because African Americans “had not those qualities of easy identification which the white man possesses” and had a “roving disposition.”

There was widespread voter intimidation during the electoral campaign of 1898. Bands of armed men known as Red Shirts rode on horseback through African American communities, particularly in southeastern North Carolina, to intimidate voters. The strategy worked, and the Democrats captured complete control of the General Assembly. The new legislature changed the state constitution, restricted the right to vote, and defined several “infamous crimes” based on casting an illegal vote.

In 1900, the General Assembly ratified a Suffrage Amendment to the state constitution that add a restriction specifically prohibiting those convicted of certain crimes from voting unless they “restored to citizenship.” The same amendment instituted both the literacy test and poll tax. The literacy test contained an exemption for the descendants of any person who was eligible to vote on or prior to January 1, 1867 – exempting White citizens who could vote in the time of slavery.

After passage of the Suffrage Amendment, the General Assembly ratified an elections law that provided detailed regulations regarding the literacy test and other voter suppression devices. The 1901 law also defined several voting crimes, including the this one:

Sec. 71 If any person be challenged as being convicted of any crime which excludes him from the right of suffrage, he shall be required to answer any question in relation to such alleged conviction; but his answer to such questions shall not be used against him in any criminal prosecution, but if any person so convicted shall vote at the election, without having been restored to the right of citizenship, he shall be guilty of an infamous crime, and punished by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, or imprisoned at hard labor, not exceeding two years, or both.

The act also made it an “infamous crime” to knowingly register in the wrong location or to “illegally vote” in any election.  At the same time, the act made it a misdemeanor to break up an election “by force and violence” or to “injure, threaten, oppress or attempt to intimidate any qualified voter of this State.” This dichotomy, in which voter intimidation constitutes a misdemeanor while casting a vote improperly is a felony, persists in North Carolina law in 2018.

Since its enactment in 1901, the only tweak to the language of the crime at issue in this case came in 1931, when the General Assembly made the wording more concise and replaced the term “infamous crime” with “felony.” From 1931 to the present, not one syllable of the definition of the crime of voting while ineligible due to a prior criminal conviction has changed. Along with the other surviving felonies from the 1901 law, the crime of voting while ineligible due to a prior criminal conviction has become a Class I felony under North Carolina Structured Sentencing. A conviction can result in as much as two years’ imprisonment. N.C.G.S. § 15A-1340.17.

 

On the continued disparate impact

The racially disparate impact of the law criminalizing voting before restoration of full citizenship after a criminal conviction persists to this day. In 2016, African Americans were nearly 53% of the prison population in this state. In the same year, African Americans comprised an estimated 21.5% of the total population of North Carolina.  Thus, African Americans are more likely to be disfranchised as the result of felony convictions and thus more likely to unintentionally run afoul of § 163-275(5) (2016), which has no express requirement of knowledge or fraudulent intent.

The prosecution of Whitney Brown in Alamance County, as well as other returning citizens, follows the law’s long tradition of a racially disparate impact. On a statewide basis, people identified as “Black” in the voter registration records constituted 290 of the 411 persons listed in the State Board of Elections’ 2016 Audit Report as having allegedly voted in violated of § 163-275(5) – 68.08% of the total when those who did not designate their race are excluded. By contrast, people identified as “White” comprised only 30.75% of the total.

This stark disparity becomes even greater in Alamance County, where the State has indicted twelve individuals for the alleged act of voting in the 2016 general election in violation of N.C.G.S. § 163-275(5). Ms. Brown and eight others – 75% of those facing a possible felony conviction – are African American. The law imposing a potential felony conviction for the act of voting before returning to full citizenship after criminal conviction functions exactly as the 1901 General Assembly intended: as a tool to punish, suppress and discourage voting by African Americans.

The statute at issue, N.C.G.S. § 163-275(5) (2016), was enacted for the express purpose of disfranchising African American voters, and continues to have a disparate impact on African American voters both statewide and in Alamance County. The racially invidious application of this law renders it unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment and Article I, § 19 of the North Carolina constitution. 

 

SCSJ Statement Regarding Proposed North Carolina Voter ID Constitutional Amendment

RALEIGH, N.C. – On June 7, 2018, North Carolina Speaker of the House Rep. Tim Moore introduced HB 1092, a constitutional amendment that would require voters in the state to present photo identification before voting.  If the legislation passes both chambers of the General Assembly by a three-fifths margin, the amendment would go on the November ballot.
North Carolina held one election (the May 2016 primary) with a requirement for voters to show photo identification after the General Assembly passed HB 589 in 2013.  In that one election, many eligible North Carolina voters were unduly burdened and disenfranchised.
House Bill 589, including a photo identification requirement for voters, was struck down in July 2016 by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  In its decision, the Fourth Circuit found that the law, which included other elections changed that would predominantly impact voters of color, was intended to “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision” for exclusion from the political process.
After the introduction of HB 1092Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the attorney who successfully argued the case against the 2013 Monster Voter Suppression Law in the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, issued the following statement:
“It’s unfortunate that legislators think that they can hide another unconstitutional voter suppression effort by putting it on the ballot as a constitutional amendment and trying to trick voters into doing their dirty work for them.  A federal court found their previous scheme to require photo ID and limit voting access were blatant attempts to disenfranchise voters of color.  What was filed today is no different.  This is an obvious effort to implement a policy that has been shot down as being racially discriminatory.”
“Just as when the legislature tried this in 2011 and 2013, we know that thousands of eligible North Carolina voters lack photo identification.  These voters are disproportionately voters of color, elderly voters, women, and voters with physical challenges.  The legislature continues to intend the effect of its voter suppression efforts–the exclusion of these groups of North Carolinians from accessing their fundamental right to vote.”

Press Release: Voters Urge U.S. Supreme Court to Agree that North Carolina Congressional Map is an Unconstitutional Partisan Gerrymander

WASHINGTON – Plaintiffs in North Carolina’s partisan gerrymandering challenge, League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho, filed a motion with the U.S. Supreme Court today asking the court to affirm the lower court’s ruling that found the entire state’s plan to be an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. In February, the Supreme Court denied expedited briefing in the case, but it still has the ability to affirm the district court’s decision and to order fair maps drawn in the state soon thereafter.

The Campaign Legal Center (CLC) the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ), and University of Chicago Professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos represent plaintiffs in the case. They jointly filed the brief on behalf of their clients, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and 12 individual North Carolina voters.

A PDF of the motion can be found at http://bit.ly/LWVAffirm

“The district court unanimously and correctly found that North Carolina lawmakers manipulated the state’s congressional voting maps to lock in their own political party’s power, with little regard for the will of voters,” said Paul Smith, vice president at CLC, who argued CLC’s landmark partisan gerrymandering case out of Wisconsin, Gill v. Whitford, before the Supreme Court on October 3. “North Carolina has one of the most severely gerrymandered maps in modern American history. North Carolina voters have endured three election cycles with a skewed congressional map. The Supreme Court must affirm the lower court’s ruling, because even a single election under an unconstitutional map is one too many.”

“The congressional maps drawn in North Carolina would be unconstitutional under virtually any meaningful legal standard the court adopts,” said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “We are hopeful that the court will recognize the glaring unconstitutionality of the plan and affirm the lower court’s ruling.”

Evidence presented at trial in 2017 demonstrated that the Republican plan to use political data in drawing this map to gain partisan advantage worked exactly as expected. In the 2016 election, Republican congressional candidates in North Carolina won ten out of thirteen seats, even though the statewide vote was nearly tied and North Carolina is a purple state. An expert that examined the map determined that the North Carolina plan exhibited the largest partisan bias of any congressional map in the country.

This term, the Supreme Court will decide CLC’s case challenging Wisconsin’s state assembly map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. CLC and co-counsel represent 11 Wisconsin voters in the landmark case, Gill v. Whitford. The federal district court in North Carolina applied the same tests for measuring partisan symmetry as were applied in the Wisconsin case, indicating that there is a manageable way to consistently measure what constitutes an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

 

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

SCSJ at the U.S. Supreme Court

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice hit a milestone this week. Allison Riggs, our Senior Voting Rights Attorney, argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Abbott v. Perez is a redistricting case out of Texas where voters of color were either packed or cracked into districts to minimize their political power. It was wrong. It was intentional. And we are proud to represent the Texas NAACP in the case.

 

SCSJ signed onto to Abbott v. Perez (formerly Perez v. Perry) in 2011, when it became clear that the Texas legislature’s redistricting plan was going to disenfranchise communities of color.  At the Supreme Court, Allison Riggs argued two main points: that the Supreme Court did not yet have proper jurisdiction in the case, and jurisdiction issues aside, it’s clear that the district lines drawn in Texas intentionally discriminated against communities of color.

 

This moment is a milestone for SCSJ.  For over a decade now we have partnered with community groups to seek justice throughout the south.  And it’s now clear that we are capable of standing before the highest court in the land – with partners and justice on our side – demanding that we live up to our ideals of having equal justice under the law.

 

NC Policy Watch reporter Melissa Boughton profiles Allison’s argument and SCSJ’s rise in the voting rights world in her recent story “A familiar face in DC: rising SCSJ voting rights attorney argues first case at SCOTUS”.

 

To read more about the case, please visit https://www.southerncoalition.org/abbott-v-perez/

 

Also, here are a few news clips from this week’s hearing:

 

New York Times (link) – Allison Riggs quoted

Washington Post  (link) – Allison mentioned

SCOTUSblog (link) – Allison quoted

Houston Public Media (link) – Allison quoted

 

 

 

 

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