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North Carolina’s Middle Court Orders New Legislative Maps Drawn by September 1

Greensboro, N.C. — A panel of three federal court judges has ordered the North Carolina General Assembly to redraw legislative maps by September 1, 2017 in order to remedy the unconstitutional and racially gerrymandered districts found in the Covington v. North Carolina case.  Legislative leaders had requested until November 15 to enact new maps, despite knowing for a year that they would be required to do so. In the order, the judges stated: “We agree with Plaintiffs that the General Assembly already has had ample time to enact a remedial redistricting plan.”

Twenty-eight state legislative districts must be redrawn following a finding by the federal court, unanimously affirmed by the Supreme Court, that those districts are unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

“The court’s decision affirms the urgency with which we must address this wrong committed against North Carolina voters. Despite operating as an unconstitutional body, the General Assembly tried to delay redrawing of maps until November 15. This prompt redrawing will allow North Carolinians to, at least, rest assured knowing which districts they will be living in come the November 2018 elections, and that the federal court will be reviewing the remedial plans closely to ensure they are legal,” said Allison Riggs, senior attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

The order did not call for special elections, meaning North Carolina voters will cast ballots in new districts for the first time in the November 2018 elections.

“For far too long, the General Assembly has delayed justice for those North Carolinians who were assigned to districts solely on the basis of their skin color. Today’s decision is an important step toward correcting that the injustice — by requiring the legislature make public their plans to redraw the state’s affected districts.”

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

A copy of the court order can be found here: http://www.southerncoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Covington-Order-7-31-17.pdf

U.S. Supreme Court Affirms that North Carolina Racially Gerrymandered State Legislative Districts

North Carolina’s federal Middle District Court will consider when new districts are to be drawn and elections to be held

WASHINGTON, D.C. – 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 U.S. Congressional districts were also racial gerrymanders.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has finally and emphatically confirmed what we’ve known for years – that many of North Carolina’s state legislative districts are unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.  The order reaffirms that our clients, and the voters of this state, are entitled to have fair legislative districts that do not discriminate against voters based on their race,” said Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay in January, which did not affect the merits of the lower court’s decision but delayed its remedy calling for a special election in 2017.  The stay is now lifted, and the order has been sent back to North Carolina’s Middle District Court to re-establish timelines for drawing new districts and holding state legislative elections.  In its 2016 order for the General Assembly to draw new districts and hold elections in 2017, the three-judge panel wrote, “[w]hile special elections have costs, those costs pale in comparison to the injury caused by allowing citizens to continue to be represented by legislators elected pursuant to a racial gerrymander.”

“The court previously called for holding elections later this year in newly drawn districts.  We think there is still time to implement special elections in the impacted districts, and we will do everything we can to make sure that happens,” added Anita Earls.  “Many North Carolinians have been participating in unfair elections in racially gerrymandered districts for far too long.  It’s time to fix this problem.”

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

Election Information for Southern States

Election Day has arrived!  Here are the times polls are open in states across the South and links to where you can find your polling place:

SCSJ Files Amicus Brief at the U.S. Supreme Court in Virginia’s Racial Gerrymandering Case

September 15, 2016

 

 

Amicus Brief Filed at the U.S. Supreme Court in Virginia’s Racial Gerrymandering Case

Race was a factor when lawmaker drew legislative districts

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed an amicus brief yesterday afternoon in support of plaintiffs in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections. In the brief, the NAACP and the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP argue that the state’s unnecessary use of race in redistricting the House of Delegates in 2011 fractured African-American communities and packed black voters into as few districts as possible, and thus violates the U.S. Constitution.  

Allison Riggs, Staff Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, issued the following statement after filing the brief:

“If the racially gerrymandered districts are allowed to stand, it would not only harm African-American voters in Virginia, but it could encourage other states to follow suit.  Racial segregation in redistricting disrupts the right to vote on equal terms, and this disruption has a ripple effect through communities whose members are assigned to districts based solely on the color of their skin.”
About the Brief:

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed the brief today at the U.S. Supreme Court in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections in support of the NAACP.  The brief argues that:

  • misapplication of racial quotas can harm African-American voters;
  • the lower court improperly analyzed evidence that demonstrated the use of race as a predominant factor in the redistricting process; and
  • certain districts where African-American voters had significant existing influence were treated the same as districts where they had not.

A full pdf of the brief can be found at: http://bit.ly/Bethune-Hill
About the case:

Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections will be considered by the U.S.Supreme Court as part of its fall docket.  The case questions whether or not the one-size-fits-all method used to pack African-American voters into legislative districts is permissible.  The plaintiffs are represented by the NAACP and the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP.  

SCSJ releases Supreme Court response to North Carolina’s Emergency Voting Case

SCSJ releases Supreme Court response to North Carolina’s Emergency Voting Case

Durham, NC — On Thursday, August 25, the League of Women Voters, represented by SCSJ, and other plaintiffs in State of North Carolina v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP asked the Supreme Court deny the State’s request to stay the Fourth Circuit’s July 29 decision. The appeals court ruled that North Carolina’s 2013 monster voter law was enacted with racially discriminatory intent and could not be used in any future election. In its brief, SCSJ highlighted that the state had already implemented the Fourth Circuit’s ruling, and that fact, plus the discriminatory nature of the law, meant that the Supreme Court should let that ruling stand to ensure that voters in November are not subjected to unconstitutional laws.

Seventeen days after the Fourth Circuit wrote a damning decision against North Carolina, the State filed a request to stay the decision, citing a lack of proper timing to adjust for the changes by the November elections. However, during the seventeen days between the court decision and the request for a stay, board of elections statewide considered, approved, and began publicizing early voting plans, dates, and sites. Not only has sufficient action been taken in such a short amount of time, but the State earlier in the year suggested it would be able to “comply with any order…issued by late July,” as to not avoid changing plans so late in August.

Furthermore, the State’s request dismisses the Court’s findings that the General Assembly “target[ed] African Americans with almost surgical precision” when eliminating voting opportunities in 2013. The Fourth Circuit determined that the legislature enacted voting restrictions with a discriminatory purpose, which cannot be reconciled with the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act.

“State and county election officials have now implemented the Fourth Circuit’s ruling, and any change now—particularly a change back to a discriminatory and unconstitutional election scheme—would be confusing and disenfranchising. We’re confident that the Supreme Court will see that based on our brief,” said Allison Riggs, voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

In sum, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice argued to the Supreme Court that a stay should be denied as such a decision would be a miscarriage of justice and inconsistent with this Court’s precedents to permit North Carolina’s discriminatory voting law to remain in force through the 2016 election.

 

 

(C) CommonDreams.org

Federal judges order NC to redraw racially gerrymandered legislative districts

 

DURHAM, N.C. — Voters and voting rights advocates won a major court victory today in North Carolina, where three federal judges unanimously found that 28 of the state’s legislative districts are racially gerrymandered and must be redrawn after the November 2016 election.

The three-judge court in the Middle District of North Carolina found that the North Carolina General Assembly unconstitutionally used race when it drew the districts following the 2010 U.S. Census, needlessly increasing the percentage of black voters in districts where black voters had been successfully electing their candidates of choice for years.

“After careful consideration of the evidence presented, we conclude that race was the predominant factor motivating the drawing of all challenged districts,” the court wrote in its opinion. “Moreover, Defendants have not shown that their use of race to draw any of these districts was narrowly tailored to further a compelling state interest.” However, the three judges cautioned that today’s decision “should in no way be read to imply that majority-black districts are no longer needed in the state of North Carolina.”

As a result of North Carolina’s redistricting formula, “I was plucked out of my district and placed into another district simply because of my race,” said Sandra Covington, a retired elementary school teacher in Fayetteville and the lead plaintiff in the case. Covington, along with 30 other individuals from across the state who reside in the racially gerrymandered districts, filed the lawsuit challenging the districts. “Today’s decision is a clear message that North Carolina voters have a right not to be assigned to election districts based solely on the color of their skin,” she said.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 continues to be necessary “but should not be used to pack black voters or minimize their influence in the political process,” said Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who called the General Assembly’s race-based approach to redistricting after the 2010 Census “a recipe for permanent racial segregation.” The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, along with Poyner Spruill LLP and Adam Stein of the Tin Fulton law firm, represents the plaintiffs in the case.

Trial in the case took place April 11-15 in Greensboro before Circuit Judge James Wynn, District Judge Thomas Schroeder, and District Judge Catherine Eagles.

For the full opinion, click here.

Judge orders remedial actions in Wake County redistricting case

Raleigh, NC — This morning, August 9, a judge overseeing the Wake County redistricting case ordered a series of actions to resolve the unconstitutional redistricting for the Wake County Board of Commissioners and the Wake County School Board.

The following is the list of actions to correct the situation, as ordered by the judge.

County Board of Commissioners:

  • March Primaries held in District A and B are void as these districts are unconstitutional.
  • Candidates from residency districts 4, 5, and 6 will run at large as previously scheduled.
  • Candidates elected will serve 2 year terms.
School Board:
  • Wake County Board of Elections must use 2011 districts.
  • All 9 single-member districts will be elected in November 2016 by plurality.
  • Candidates elected will serve 2 year terms.
  • There will be no run off elections.
  • These districts are only to be used for the 2016 elections.
The judge also stated his expectations that the General Assembly will create a system to resolve the unconstitutional districts upon reconvening in January 2017.
“This is a victory for basic fairness. It is not the American way to change the rules in the middle of the game because you are losing. That is what the General Assembly did when they passed these unconstitutional districts,” said Dr. Earl C. Johnson, plaintiff and former president of the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association.

For the link to the official order, click here.

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The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a legal nonprofit engaged in voting rights advocacy, partners with communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities in the South to defend and advance their political, social and economic rights through the combination of legal advocacy, research, organizing and communications. The organization was founded in 2007 in Durham, North Carolina.

Court will not reconsider unconstitutional election map ruling in Wake County

Durham, NC — On July 26, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit denied the petition for rehearing en banc filed by the Wake County Board of Elections in litigation over the method of electing the School Board and County Commission. This decision means that the lower court must now implement the Fourth Circuit’s earlier ruling that the General Assembly’s redistricting plans for the Wake County Board of Education and Board of County Commissioners are unconstitutional and elections should not proceed in 2016 using those plans.

Earlier this month, the appeals court struck down two North Carolina laws that dramatically restructured those boards for partisan reasons. Reversing the district court, which upheld the General Assembly’s laws in February, the Fourth Circuit ruled that the plans unconstitutionally deviated from the “one person, one vote” guarantee in the federal and state constitutions. The Fourth Circuit entered immediate judgment for the plaintiffs, and stated that, “We see no reason why the November 2016 elections should proceed under the unconstitutional plans we strike down today.”

Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which represented plaintiffs in these actions, said of the ruling: “On behalf of my clients who have been steadfast in the long and hard fight to vindicate their rights, I am pleased that we are now in a position to return to the prior constitutionally-drawn districts system for both Boards.”

To view the court documents, click here.

Alberta Currie

Alberta Currie

Meet Alberta Currie, the lead plaintiff in SCSJ’s litigation challenging North Carolina’s strict Voter ID requirement.

Voting is a matter of pride for Alberta Currie. Since the age of 21 in 1956, she consistently has voted in every election. It was her grandmother who instilled in her the importance of never missing a voting day. But due to a voter ID provision in the state’s new Monster Voter Suppression Law, she may not be able to cast a ballot on Election Day in the coming years.

Currie, a 78-year-old native of Robeson County who now lives in Hope Mills, does not have a photo ID and cannot obtain one in North Carolina without a birth certificate. She doesn’t have a birth certificate because she was born at home to a midwife during the Jim Crow days of the segregated South.

On August 13, 2013, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court – with Currie as the lead plaintiff – challenging the new voter ID requirement of the law. The suit was filed on behalf of the N.C. A. Philip Randolph Institute, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and several individual voters, including Alberta Currie.

After the case was combined with another case, North Carolina NAACP v. McCrory, arguments were made in federal court.  On July 29, 2016, the Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals found that the law was not only unconstitutional but targeted African-American voters “with almost surgical precision.” As a result of that ruling, the 2016 general election in North Carolina proceeded with two weeks of early voting, same-day voter registration, and no requirement for photo ID.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice supports the rights of all voters – particularly those like  Alberta Currie and an estimated 318,000 other North Carolinians – who may completely lose the ability to vote due to changes in voting laws. SCSJ is currently engaged in voting rights litigation in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and the District of Columbia. Litigating the current onslaught of repressive voting laws requires a team of experts, extensive travel, filing fees, and numerous other expenses in addition to regular operating costs. Your donation continues the fight for the voting rights of people like Alberta Currie. Please consider making a recurring donation to help sustain our voting rights litigation year-roundClick here to support SCSJ’s work!

Post by SCSJ Deputy Director Shoshannah Sayers