North Carolina

  • April 29, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    North Carolina, which last year voted to amend its constitution to ban same-sex marriages even though it already had a law doing that, is now on the verge on enacting one of the nation’s more onerous voter ID laws. 

    Late last week the N.C. House easily approved the so-called Voter Information Verification Act that would require people to present government-issued voter photo IDs before casting ballots. It is expected to pass the Senate and the State’s Republican Governor Pat McCrory has signaled he’ll sign it into law. Brentin Mock reporting for ColorLines noted that last week’s vote in the lower chamber drew throngs of N.C. university students to protest the new law.  The measure would make it arduous for the state’s colleges and university students to engage in democracy. And other measures being considered, as Mock reports, are also aimed at making voting burdensome, such as limiting early voting and prohibiting all early voting on Sundays.

    The Brennan Center’s Lucy Zhou in an April 25 post about the ongoing state efforts to place more burdens on voting described N.C. as a “hotbed of restrictive voting bills” and listed the array of measures the state is moving to implement. Zhou notes that North Carolina lawmakers are striving to undercut the state constitutional rights of students to vote at their college addresses, by penalizing parents. If students register to vote under a different address, like their university address, parents will be barred from “listing their children as dependents on state tax forms ….”

    State Rep. Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) in a column for The Charlotte Observer called the photo ID bill “common-sense” and likened it to showing a photo ID to board an airplane. The problem with this type of argument is that it misses a fairly significant point. Voting is integral to democracy and indeed is protected in numerous places in the U.S. Constitution. But what about air travel and purchasing cocktails or even certain kinds of decongestants, which also require identification. Those actions may be vital to the pursuit of happiness, but not all are constitutionally protected rights, and certainly not as integral to democracy as voting.

    Tillis claims “fringe elements have relied on heated rhetoric to frame this issue ….”

    There is, however, nothing radical, over-the-top, or wild-eyed about noting the fact that North Carolina lawmakers are not able to point to any in-person voter fraud that has occurred in their state. Instead it is Tillis and his cohorts who are misinforming the public by claiming the integrity of the vote needs to be protected, while offering not a shred of evidence as to when that integrity was compromised.

  • April 4, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Apparently a bit of sanity has surfaced in the North Carolina legislature where a couple of lawmakers introduced a resolution declaring the state could establish an official religion. The Charlotte Observer reports that House Speaker Thom Tillis is saying the chamber will not vote on the resolution.

    In this case Joint Resolution 494, which in part declared that the First Amendment does not apply to the states, showcases a couple of lawmakers who are either woefully ignorant of the U.S Constitution and First Amendment jurisprudence or are blatantly provocative.

    First, as has been pointed out by a lot people like law school professors, much of the Bill of Rights do apply to the states. Starting in the 1920s federal courts ruled that the Constitution's 14th Amendment applies most of the Bill of Rights to the states. 

    Nevertheless, the lawmakers’ resolution states that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which provides for a separation of religion and government, “does not apply to the states, municipalities, or schools.” The resolution also includes sections declaring the Constitution “does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion,” and that the N.C. legislature “does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.”

    Although the resolution does not specify what religion N.C. would officially recognize, it undoubtedly would be Christianity. The lawmakers pushing the resolution said they were doing so in part to provide a show of support to Rowan County Commissioners who are waging a legal battle to keep using Christian prayers at their public meetings. (The Supreme Court has ruled that if lawmakers feel the need to use prayer during official business, it should be nonsectarian, otherwise they leave themselves open to a First Amendment challenge. The ACLU has lodged a lawsuit against the county commission arguing that its prayer policy violates the separation of government and religion.)

  • April 4, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Holning Lau, Associate Professor of Law, University of North Carolina School of Law

    In my home state of North Carolina -- the most recent and probably last state to amend its constitution to ban same-sex marriage -- I have been fielding lots of questions from local couples wondering what impact, if any, the Supreme Court’s pending marriage cases will have here. The cases arose in California and New York. How might litigation that started so far away change things in our neck of the woods?

    The cases before the Supreme Court -- Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor -- are unlikely to have any immediate legal impact on same-sex couples in places like North Carolina. With that said, the cases can accelerate change in our part of the country, and they have already given us a lot to celebrate. In this post, I will use North Carolina as an example to elaborate on these points, but my underlying analysis can be applied to any one of the many states that currently, like North Carolina, offer no legal recognition to same-sex relationships.

    Immediate legal impact

    Let’s start with why the two cases probably won’t directly or immediately affect legal rights in North Carolina. Hollingsworth is the case about Prop 8, the ballot measure banning same-sex marriage in California. The case concerns whether a state can deny same-sex couples the right to marry. The Court could take Hollingsworth as an opportunity to declare that no state, including North Carolina, is permitted to deprive same-sex couples of that right. Indeed, I helped to prepare an amicus brief that supports that conclusion and I certainly welcome it. Conventional wisdom, however, is that the Court won’t make such a bold move. Some supporters of marriage equality counsel against a bold move, fearing the backlash that it would foment.

    Based on last week’s oral arguments, I suspect most of the justices are struggling to choose between dismissing the case on procedural grounds and striking down Prop 8 in a way that minimizes spillover effects to other states. I doubt that a majority of the justices will vote to uphold Prop 8.

    Dismissing the case on procedural grounds (discussed more fully here) would allow the Court to avoid having to either strike down or uphold Prop 8. It would simply be saying that, for technical reasons, the case is not properly before the Supreme Court. If the Court adopts this reasoning, Prop 8 would be unconstitutional because the California couples prevailed in lower court. However, because the Supreme Court itself would not be saying anything about same-sex marriage, states beyond California would remain unaffected.

  • June 7, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    While the marriage equality movement appears to be on the upswing – poll numbers show more support for same-sex marriages and President Obama has provided eloquent backing – the broader landscape for the LGBT community remains fraught with enormous challenges.

    The LGBT community continues to fight for protections against discrimination in the workplace, and struggle against callousness from government officials who are intent on cutting social safety net programs. And many LGBT youngsters, a new report finds, are growing up in hostile environments.

    A report by the Human Rights Campaign surveying more than 10,000 LGBT youths nationwide, perhaps not surprisingly, shows the overwhelming number of LGBT youngsters report facing harassment, discrimination and isolation. The Los Angeles Times says the report “paints an often stark picture of the challenges of growing up gay in this country, even as same-sex marriage gains support among many Americans and other legal and cultural barriers to gay equality begin to fall.”

    Linda Spears, vice president of policy for the Child Welfare League of America, told the newspaper that the HRC study confirms “our worst fears about LGBT kids. These kids are often so vulnerable in the way their lives are being led because of the lack of support they have."

    The report found that LGBT youth are “more than two times as likely as non-LGBT youth to say they have been verbally harassed and called names at school. Among LGBT youth, half (51%) have been verbally harassed at school, compared with 25% among non-LGBT students.”

    Four in ten LGBT youth, 13 to 17 year-olds, said they lived in a community not accepting of them. The report found that only 21 percent of LGBT youth say they reside in a place with a community that helps LGBT people.

  • May 11, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Quickly after President Obama announced his support of marriage equality, the president’s knee-jerk detractors doused the moment with cynicism. The president, they said backed into the announcement or they snidely asked what’s the difference between a flip-flop and evolving.

    The response from the far right – Obama is a scourge, a menace to society, God is surely irked now – was overwrought and hardly surprising. The cynicism, however, was offensive for its insensitivity and cluelessness. Did the dunderhead crowd listen to the president’s comments or was it expressing a latent distaste for gay Americans or ignorance of the challenges lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender Americans face in a society where many are still bent on oppressing and marginalizing them.

    Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, argues that listening to Obama’s comments is, surprising as it may seem, helpful, writing, “Whatever your view of President Obama’s motives, or the legal consequences of his statement …, it is not in dispute that the words he spoke gave many Americans – including gay children and teenagers – the message that he had heard them, and that their experiences mattered so much that he’d changed his views – personal, political and legal.”

    Or as James Fallows, the longtime correspondent for the Atlantic, said:  

    I am aware that there are various slice-and-dice cynical assessments one could make of the president’s comments today. (Why did he take so long? Why did he back off the support he’d expressed in the 1990s? Might this be useful as a wedge issue in the election? It doesn’t have any immediate since it’s still up to the states. And so on.) But the fact remains that five minutes before his announcement, no one could be sure that he would take the step of staying that his personal views had changed. He did – and it was important, brave, potentially risky, and right. That should be noted It’s a significant day.