Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Day in Court

The defendants, on trial in Federal court
Closing arguments today in the Federal courtroom of Judge Thomas Schroeder in Winston-Salem on whether implementation of North Carolina's new voter suppression law should be halted. There's now available at least two different and detailed accounts of testimony that was heard on Tuesday, particularly testimony by Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville attorney and a Democratic member of the NC House. (Barry Yoeman's write-up gives important context. Chad Nance's account is considerably more textured with detail, especially portraits of some of the lawyers who are defending the law.)

Under oath, Rep. Glazier recounted the legislative history of the new voting law, which "was, bar none, the worst legislative process I’ve ever been through."
It didn’t start out that way. When House Bill 589 was first introduced in April 2013, it was a short and narrowly focused voter-ID bill. David Lewis, the Republican chair of the House Elections Committee, invited legislators from both parties to weigh in. Democrats offered suggestions to soften some requirements—for example, allowing the use of student ID cards from state universities and community colleges—and those ideas were initially accepted, Glazier said. There were public forums, testimony from experts invited by both Democrats and Republicans, and opportunity for amendments. The events surrounding the bill’s introduction amounted to “the best process I have ever seen,” Glazier testified....
The bill passed the House 81-36 and then sat in the NC Senate for three months ... until something earthshaking happened at the U.S. Supreme Court. The Roberts Court, in Shelby County vs. Holder, invalidated a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act requiring some jurisdictions—including forty North Carolina counties with histories of racial discrimination—to get federal approval for new election policies, because, Chief Justice John Roberts suggested, racial discrimination was simply a thing of the past. No kidding!

Republicans in the General Assembly had been waiting for that decision, and once they had it -- in fact, a month after Shelby was published -- the NC Senate vastly expanded that initial Voter ID bill --“It was a 90-percent different bill,” Glazier testified -- adding provisions that disallowed university and college IDs, that ended same-day voting, that shortened Early Voting by a week, that ended out-of-precinct voting, that banned straight-ticket voting, did many other things not originally covered in the House bill that Democrats had actually been allowed to participate in the crafting of.
There was no time to review the new proposals, Glazier said. No committee hearings. No opportunity for “scholarly understanding” of the implications. No fiscal-impact report from the non-partisan legislative staff. When the measure reached the House floor, debate was limited to about two hours. Such a process might have been appropriate to a bill regulating golf carts, Glazier said, but not to a major policy bill with significant civil-rights implications....
At the end of the speeches, the Democrats broke protocol and stood up to vote “no” in unison. The bill passed on a party-line vote. Some Democratic lawmakers prayed aloud in the House chamber, hands on one another’s shoulders. A Republican friend walked over to Glazier to apologize.
“I had never been through anything like it in public life, and doubt I will again,” Glazier said. “If you were writing a textbook on how to write a bill and how to govern a legislature, this would be the textbook example of how not to do it.”
Judge Schroeder is not expected to rule from the bench immediately. (All quotes above are taken from the Barry Yoeman article.)

Footnote on the State Board of Elections, which has been tasked with implementing the new law:

Chad Nance points out that Kim Strach, the current director of the State BOE (and well known to those in Watauga County who have been struggling against decisions by the local BOE), is also the wife of one of the attorneys defending the new voter law, Phil Strach, who cross-examined Rep. Glazier: Attorney Strach "had no luck tripping Glazier up and spent most of his questions trying to make an argument that because discredited and indicted former Democratic Speaker of the NC House Jim Black played fast and lose with the rules then it was ok for the Republicans to do so now."

It's depressing to know that the Republican arguments for "immoral equivalence" are foundational concepts, even in Federal court.

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