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U.S. Civil Rights Commission Will Meet In North Carolina, Hotbed Of Voting Rights Struggle

Reprinted with permission from D.C. Report.

The much-derided commission  set up by Donald Trump to investigate bogus claims of voter fraud is now disbanded, but our nation’s independent commission on civil rights — founded more than 60 years ago — is meeting soon to talk about federal civil rights enforcement.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will  meet Feb. 2 in Raleigh, N.C., the state where the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked a trial court’s order to redraw the state’s congressional map in a gerrymandering case.

“From Reconstruction to the present, North Carolina has played a central role in the evolving story of voting rights in America,” the commission said in a statement announcing the meeting. The commission will feature testimony from the meeting in its report this year on voting rights.

Civil rights attorney Anita Earls, who founded a North Carolina nonprofit to protect minority voting rights, said she plans to talk about the 2016 and 2017 elections in North Carolina.

In 2016, supporters of former Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, claimed after he lost the gubernatorial race to Democrat Roy Cooper that convicted felons or people who had already voted cast ballots. At least 18 people were wrongfully accused of being felons ineligible to vote.

“Gov. McCrory has set a new standard for desperation in his attempts to undermine the results of an election he lost,” a Cooper spokesman said at the time.

Earls, who is seeking a seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court, said she hopes some of the people affected by challenges will attend the meeting and speak about their experiences.

Other people scheduled to speak include Vanita Gupta, the former acting head of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department; Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; and Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill.

The commission is also expected to talk about federal voting rights enforcement efforts and the impact of a 2013 Supreme Court case, Shelby County v. Holder, on the Department of Justice’s enforcement strategies and priorities.

The case invalidated the formula that determined which states and local governments with a history of discrimination had to get approval from the Department of Justice or a federal court before changing voting laws and procedures.

Since that decision, states that were once supervised by the Department of Justice, such as South Carolina and Texas, have used stricter voting rules that disproportionately affect young people and low-income minorities.

North Carolina, which was partially covered under the old formula, passed one of the toughest voting laws in the nation. McCrory signed the bill, which included a voter identification requirement, eliminated same-day voter registration and imposed other restrictions. A federal appeals court struck down parts of that law, noting that it targeted “African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”

Former President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 that established the bipartisan commission, and its findings helped shape the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. The commission’s eight members serve six-year terms.

PHOTO: Republican Pat McCrory tells supporters that the results of his gubernatorial contest against Democratic challenger Roy Cooper will be contested, in Raleigh, North Carolina,  November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake/File Photo

Broadcast News Ignores North Carolina GOP’s Unprecedented Power Grab

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Broadcast news completely ignored an unprecedented move by North Carolina Republicans to limit the power of the state’s incoming Democratic governor. A series of measures put forth by the Republican-controlled legislature have been criticized as a way to “subvert the will of the voters,” and an elections law expert noted that they could spur legal challenges.

Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly held a special session on December 14 in which they proposed a series of laws to strip away power from the state’s incoming Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, including a bill that “removes partisan control of the state and county election boards from the governor,” according to The New York Times. Instead, the Times noted, “a Republican will lead the state board during election years and a Democrat in non-election years.” A CNN.com report outlined other proposed legislation from the “unprecedented power grab,” including bills to slow the judicial process for the governor to bring legal battles to the state Supreme Court, to block Cooper from appointing members to the state Board of Education and the board of trustees for the University of North Carolina, and to reduce the number of appointments in the Cooper administration from 1,200 to 300.

The special session was a surprise, called suddenly and immediately after the conclusion of another special session to address disaster relief. As The Atlantic noted, “legislators used the same obscure maneuver they did when they passed HB2,” an anti-LGBTQ law that governs access to public bathrooms, “calling themselves back into session with the support of three-fifths of legislators.” Several media figures have pointed out that the backlash against HB 2 — which invalidated local governments’ ability to provide legal protections for LGBTQ people — was likely a deciding factor in Gov. Pat McCrory’s recent re-election loss. The Atlantic article also explained that Republican House Speaker Tim Moore claimed “the decision to open the second special session had been made only Wednesday,” December 14, which was “a lie that was quickly revealed by the list of signatures from legislators needed to call the session, dated December 12.”

None of these details, however, have been reported on any national broadcast news programs since Wednesday. A review of the December 14 and 15 editions of ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, NBC’s Nightly News, and of the December 15 and 16 editions of ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’ CBS This Morning, and NBC’s Today found no mentions of the attempted power grab. Local affiliates of all three networks did cover the story.

Other national and internet media outlets also covered the unprecedented moves. As Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern wrote, “This last-minute power grab marks an alarming departure from basic democratic norms” and is “a blatant attempt to overturn the results of an election by curtailing judicial independence and restructuring the government to seize authority lawfully delegated to the incoming Democratic governor.” The New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards criticized the North Carolina Republicans for “resorting to a novel strategy to subvert the will of the voters” and attempting a “graceless power grab.” CNN and MSNBC have also covered what MSNBC’s Chris Hayes described as a “legislative coup.” New York magazine reported that the bills will get a vote on December 20, but that the new measures may spur a larger battle. As elections law expert Rick Hasen explained, some of the measures would spur “potential Voting Rights Act and federal constitutional challenges.”

Methodology:

Media Matters searched Snapstream and iQ media for mentions of “North Carolina” on the December 14 and 15 editions of ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News and the December 15 and 16 editions of ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’ CBS This Morning, and NBC’s Today.

IMAGE: Governor of North Carolina Pat McCrory introduces candidate for U.S. Senate Thom Tillis (R-NC) at a campaign stop in Raleigh, North Carolina October 29, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Keane 

North Carolina Republicans Try To Strip Powers From Democratic Governor-Elect

RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) – North Carolina’s Republican-dominated legislature is moving to strip powers from the state’s governor three weeks before Democrat Roy Cooper is set to succeed a member of their party in the executive mansion.

Lawmakers on Thursday began debating a bill to require Senate confirmation for cabinet appointments, reduce by 1,200 the number of state employees the governor could hire and fire at will, and eliminate the governor’s power to pick certain university trustees.

The legislation came as a surprise, filed late on Wednesday on the heels of a special “lame duck” session of the General Assembly called to consider relief for Hurricane Matthew victims.

Cooper, scheduled to be sworn in on Jan. 7 after defeating incumbent Republican Pat McCrory by 10,000 votes last month, said the proposals were aimed at holding him back.

“Most people might think that this is a partisan power grab, but it is really more ominous,” Cooper said at a news conference in Raleigh on Thursday. “This is about thwarting the governor’s ability to move us forward on education and health care and clean air and water.”

Cooper, currently state attorney general, said his office was reviewing the proposals and would sue if lawmakers approved any measures he believed were unconstitutional.

Republicans called the changes justified by the state’s constitution. Senate confirmation hearings were held earlier in the state’s history, they said.

“Some of the stuff we’re doing, obviously if the election results were different, we might not be moving quite as fast on, but a lot of this stuff would have been done anyway,” Representative David Lewis, a Republican and a sponsor of the bill, told the News & Observer on Wednesday.

A House of Representatives committee voted on an unrecorded voice vote to advance the bill on Thursday, as about 100 people gathered at the legislature to demonstrate against the proposals.

North Carolina, the ninth most-populous U.S. state, has been roiled by sharp political divisions. The state voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 and then turned to the right, electing McCrory in 2012 and Republican super-majorities in its state legislature.

The state became a target of boycotts by companies, musicians and sports leagues after it passed a law this year restricting bathroom access for transgender people in government buildings and public schools.

(Reporting by Marti Maguire; Writing by David Ingram; Editing by Dan Grebler)

IMAGE: North Carolina Governor-elect Roy Cooper speaks to supporters at a victory rally the day after his Republican opponent and incumbent Pat McCrory conceded in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S., December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Bid To Reinstate North Carolina Voting Limits

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a bid by North Carolina to reinstate for November’s elections several voting restrictions, including a requirement that people show identification at the polls.

The court, divided in part 4-4, rejected a request made by Republican Governor Pat McCrory after an appeals court ruled last month that the 2013 law discriminates against minority voters. Five votes are needed for an emergency request to be granted.

The brief order noted that three of the court’s conservatives, including Chief Justice John Roberts, would have allowed the voter identification provision and limits on early voting to be in effect for the election. Justice Clarence Thomas agreed on that point, but was the only justice to say he would have also allowed a requirement blocking pre-registration of 16-year-olds to stay in place.

McCrory’s lawyers said the status quo should be maintained so close to the election, citing court precedent in their favor.

The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on July 29 that the law intentionally discriminated against minority voters. The same court refused to put its decision on hold for the Nov. 8 election.

Critics say such laws, passed in Republican-governed states, make voting harder for minorities such as African-Americans and Hispanics, who tend to support Democrats. Backers say the laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud.

The court is currently short one justice following the death of conservative Antonin Scalia in February.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)