- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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April 18

The Observer of Charlotte on the NCAA’s announcement to return championships after HB2 repeal:

Well, it worked.

The so-called repeal of HB2 brought the NCAA back to North Carolina. And that’s what it was all about for Gov. Roy Cooper, legislators, the NCAA and the business community.

The NCAA’s announcement Tuesday that it would bring 36 championship events to North Carolina through 2022 was uplifting news for the state. It was great for sports fans (ask Duke supporters about the difference between playing in Greensboro and playing in Greenville). And it will directly help the low-income workers who earn a small paycheck from the events.

The only people who aren’t celebrating are the LGBT residents (and those sympathetic to them), who are the odd ones out in this happy ending. North Carolina still sanctions discrimination against them, but the state didn’t consider that too big a price when it made a deal to get back in the NCAA’s good graces, and the prize came Tuesday.

NCAA first- and second-round men’s basketball games will be played in Greensboro in 2020 and in Raleigh in 2021. Greensboro will host women’s tournament games in 2019. The men’s or women’s Division I soccer championships will be held in Cary for four straight years beginning in 2018.

Only three states won more events than the 36 North Carolina nabbed.

That is genuinely good news, and North Carolina should celebrate it. It must do so, though, knowing that the shameful impulses that drove the passage of HB2 were kept alive with its repeal, and people who value anti-discrimination protections for gay people were willing to sacrifice them to get the games back. All sides held true to their values for a year until the NCAA dangled its carrot and threatened with its stick before a firm deadline.

Bathrooms got all the attention, but a more far-reaching part of HB2 was that it codified state-backed discrimination by blocking cities and others from passing ordinances ensuring that gays could not be denied a table, or a hotel room or a taxi because of whom they loved. Under HB 142, HB2 is technically repealed but that principal provision - freedom to discriminate and an inability to forbid it - remains.

HB 142 supporters point out that many other states provide no more protections than North Carolina. Even federal statute leaves sexual orientation out of its list of protected classes (though a federal judge this month ruled otherwise). That only goes to prove how far we have to go, that in 2017 a man or woman can still legally be fired or denied housing because of whom they love.

Gov. Cooper has said he will continue to fight for progress for the LGBT community. The pressure is off now though, of course, and even more so with the NCAA’s announcement. It is a certainty that the legislature will do nothing in the next couple of years to advance gay rights. The only question is whether, with its most-favored-nation status now restored, the state will try to chip away at those rights even more, penalty-free.

Online: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/

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April 17

The News & Observer of Raleigh on the battle between the public instruction superintendent and education board:

It’s true that Mark Johnson, elected as state superintendent of Public Instruction last year, won the office fair and square. But Johnson has an outsized idea of what his powers should be in an agency that has a traditional line of authority that starts, really, at the State Board of Education. A lawsuit involving the fight over power between the board and Johnson is a waste of time and energy.

The relationship between the board and the superintendent has been tense over the years, with power struggles cropping up now and then. Long-time Superintendent June Atkinson, a Democrat whom Johnson defeated, clashed on occasion with a board dominated by Republicans and chaired by a Republican, former congressman Bill Cobey.

But now Republicans are squaring off against each other - largely over Johnson’s belief that as the elected superintendent, he ought to be in charge of everything, which includes hiring key staff without the board’s approval. In a curious development, some Republicans in the General Assembly want to give Johnson several hundred thousand dollars to hire people without the board’s approval.

The board has clear constitutional authority, even if it puts Johnson in an unusual position among officials elected statewide. But Johnson, who’s demonstrated something of a hard-line Republican ideology favoring public money vouchers to facilitate people sending their kids to private school and more expansion of charter schools, is in his mid-30s with limited experience (he is a lawyer and former school board member in Forsyth County).

The truth is, given his inexperience, he ought to recognize that working with his board is more productive than fighting, and that he could learn something from Cobey, who is a conservative Republican but has demonstrated he understands the need to listen and compromise.

The state’s public school structure is meant to maximize input from parents and the public. There is the appointed state board, locally elected boards, a state superintendent, local superintendents. Money for schools comes from the state, but local governments often provide teacher supplements and school construction money.

Johnson says he ought to be able to hire his own people, but the state board has gone ahead and hired some people for high-level jobs based on their experience and the board’s judgment. That seems reasonable, and the power struggle, looking at it from the outside, seems more about Johnson’s wish to consolidate power and the board’s intention to show him there are limitations to that power that are in a way unique to this agency.

The legal fight should end. It is not productive in any way, and both the State Board and Johnson have better things to do.

Online: https://www.newsobserver.com/

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April 16

The News & Record of Greensboro on legislature’s passage of a bill reducing the 15 appellate court judges to 12:

The legislature swatted the other two branches of state government at once last week - quite a feat, even for this overly aggressive body.

House Bill 239 reduces the N.C. Court of Appeals from 15 judges to 12 through attrition. The next three who leave the bench won’t be replaced.

The measure was approved with the support of all Republicans in the House and Senate over opposition from Democrats.

It denies Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper the chance to fill vacancies, starting next month when Republican Judge Doug McCullough reaches the mandatory retirement age of 72.

Two more Republicans, Robert N. Hunter Jr. and Ann Marie Calabria, would be next to retire, both in 2019.

Cooper could be expected to replace all three with Democrats if he had the opportunity.

Partisan politics aside, this move will have a major impact on the state’s appellate courts - and it was made without consultation with judicial officials. That creates the strong suspicion that the changes were not made with partisan politics aside.

Sponsors of the measure say they’re trying to re-balance the workloads of the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. The COA, our state’s intermediate appellate court, is doing less, legislators say. Indeed, case filings in 2015-16 fell to 2,183 from 2,594 in 2011-12, according to Administrative Office of the Courts records. Dispositions dropped from 2,775 to 2,229.

One reason may be a greater use of mediation to settle cases. Another is that complex business cases and cases raising constitutional issues now are appealed directly to the Supreme Court, bypassing the Court of Appeals.

Yet, the legislature already ordered a procedural change last year that is just now beginning to affect the COA. This court hears cases in three-judge panels. The change allows parties to petition for review of those rulings by the full COA. This will create more work for the court, forcing it to hear some cases twice.

The court also will have to figure out how to adjust to the loss of one judge, leaving 14. It won’t have five full panels of three judges each but four panels, with two judges left over. The result is sure to delay when some cases are heard.

HB 239 also would route more appeals from the District and Superior Courts around the COA and directly to the Supreme Court. The high court’s workload probably isn’t excessive now, but too many additional cases could produce a backlog. What many Democrats fear is that Republican legislators want to create an emergency on the Supreme Court, which Republicans could use to justify enlarging it. Currently configured with seven justices, the Supreme Court is authorized by the state constitution to have as many as nine.

It so happens that the Supreme Court has a 4-3 Democratic majority. Republican legislators tried to add two Republican justices last year, but then-Gov. Pat McCrory said he stopped the move. Lawmakers could try again, giving themselves the authority to make the additional appointments for the purpose of building a 5-4 GOP majority.

All this richly justifies Cooper’s expected veto of HB 239. Changes to the court of this magnitude should be undertaken only after careful study with participation by judicial branch officials and representatives of the state’s legal community. This has the appearance of partisan politics and nothing else.

The courts are meant to be a co-equal and independent branch of state government. Their job is to protect the rights of the people by providing a check on the power of the executive and legislative branches.

The legislature is claiming too much power for itself, and it shouldn’t get away with swatting the other two branches in one bold stroke.

Online: https://www.greensboro.com/

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