Their Day In Court

Three critical cases in North Carolina courtrooms

Keep your eyes on the courts. Three important cases will make appearances in three different North Carolina courtrooms next week. All three, in one way or another, concern issues of basic fairness under the law.

In U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem, the North Carolina NAACP is challenging the state’s two-year-old Voter Information Verification Act, commonly and misleadingly referred to as the Voter ID law. The name is misleading because the act does a whole lot more than require voters to present a photo ID at the polls. It restricts early voting, ends same-day voter registration and eliminates pre-registration of high school students—all measures that make it harder for voting blocs that tend to vote Democratic to do so.

The trial began this week and could go on for several more. It’s critical not just for North Carolina but for as many as 15 states that have passed versions of voter ID laws since 2010, including several that, like the Tar Heel State, passed their laws immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.

In U.S. District Court in Greensboro, a federal judge will preside over a hearing in a lawsuit filed Monday that challenges a stunning bit of legislative muscle-flexing: House Bill 263, which passed July 2 and imposes a new council district system on the city of Greensboro. The law—here’s the most amazing part—makes Greensboro the only city in North Carolina that can’t determine or change its own form of government.

(See earlier commentary on Republican lawmakers and the principle of “local control.”)

The law’s sponsors gave little concrete explanation of the need for this imposed structure aside from vague references to increasing voter participation. If you look at it closely, though, it’s apparent what specific kind of participation they want: The law clusters minorities—who, again, tend to vote Democratic—into three heavily minority districts. Of eight. It’s the 2011 legislative redistricting plan, a masterpiece of GOP gerrymandering, shrunken and imposed on Greensboro.

In state Superior Court in Charlotte, Randall Kerrick, the former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man, Jonathan Ferrell, in September 2013, will stand trial for manslaughter in another trial that could last several weeks.

In the nearly two years since the killing, Charlotte has stood out from Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore as an anti-example, a case of a city that avoided civil unrest by taking the shooting case seriously enough to charge one of its own officers with a crime. For everyone’s sake, I hope that stays the case.

Categories: Poking the Hornet’s Nest