Thomas Farr Will Not Be Confirmed as a US Federal Judge from NC

Today, there is cause for celebration since, as a result of the decision of Senator Tim Scott (R-SC)and Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Thomas Farr, an attorney who was the architect of the 2013 Voter ID Bill in NC that was determined to be unconstitutional, will not be confirmed to serve as a Federal District Court Judge from our state. Tim Scott, an African American Senator from South Carolina said, “I am ready and willing to support strong candidates for our judicial vacancies that do not have lingering concerns about issues that could affect their decision-making process as a federal judge.”

Scott’s concerns arose as the result of a 1991 US Justice Department memo which was leaked this week which raised concerns over Farr’s role in a well-known voter suppression scheme that took place during the 1984 and 1990 of US Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) which targeted African American voters. Farr worked for Senator Helms at that time.

Civil rights groups, as well as the Congressional Black Caucus, have been opposed to Farr’s nomination for nearly a year. Farr wrote North Carolina’s extreme voter ID law in 2013, which was later struck down by a federal appeals court, and in doing so, the court found the law targeted black people “with almost surgical precision.”

Chief Justice John Roberts speaks in support of the independence of our Judiciary

Today, Chief Justice John Roberts of the United States Supreme Court took a bold step in speaking out in support of the independence and integrity of judges serving as part of the Federal Judiciary. He made his statement to rebuke a statement made by President Trump earlier this week when he criticized a judge and in doing so referred to him as an “Obama judge” who had entered an order in opposition to his recently announced asylum policy for immigrants.

Judge Roberts stated that Trump’s statement essentially reflected a profound misunderstanding of the role of the judiciary. He went on to say “We do not have Obama judges or Trumps judges, Bush judges or Clinton Judges, what we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.” I’d like to commend Chief Justice Roberts for his statement, however, President Trump could not accept the Chief Justice’s statement, and he subsequently lashed out and stated in a tweet that we do indeed have “Obama judges.” President Trump continues to show disrespect for the independence of our Judiciary System as well as to other institutions of government which undermines the moral and legal integrity of our country, however, I’m no longer shocked by those things that he says and does, I simply long and pray for a day that we once again have a moral, responsible president leading our country who respects the separation of powers in our branches of government and who stands up for the principles that we collectively embody, embrace, and respect.

2018 National Issues Forum with the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators

Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending a  conference known as the 2018 National Issues Forum hosted by the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators in Los Angeles, California. Approximately 150 legislators from across the United States came together for this event during which we discussed a broad range of environmental issues and challenges that are facing legislators across America. I’d like to thank those who organized this event including Rep. Pricey Harrison from NC who is a member of the board of this organization. During the conference, Senator Mimi Stewart of New Mexico was given an award for her significant legislative accomplishments. I also had the pleasure of meeting Delegate Dan K. Morhaim, M.D. of Maryland who has also been actively engaged in this organization since it was established. I learned a great deal during this conference, and I’d like to thank all of those who organized this event.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

NC Supreme Court to Review Four Cases Tied to the NC Racial Justice Act

The North Carolina Supreme Court will soon determine the fate of four men whose sentences were reduced under the NC Racial Justice Act.

In 2009, I was the primary sponsor of a bill known as the NC Racial Justice Act, the purpose of the law was to address problems related to the impermissible and unconstitutional use of race in death penalty cases. In 2013, the Republican majority repealed the Racial Justice Act (RJA), however, after the act was passed and before it was repealed, four men on death row sought relief under the act. The Honorable Greg Weeks, a Superior Court Judge in Cumberland County, determined that race had been improperly used in their trials which resulted in the imposition of the death penalty in their cases, and these men were re-sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, which the law provided for. The NC Supreme Court currently is reviewing a case involving these four men which will determine whether the relief they received under the NC Racial Justice Act will be undone as a result of the law being repealed. Please check out an op-ed article which I wrote which was published in today’s Fayetteville Observer relating to the RJA.

Read my full article on the Fayetteville Observer Website.

Implicit Bias Among North Carolina Teachers

A recent study on implicit bias published by NC State University looks closely at how Wake County educators are influenced by racial bias in the classroom.

I recently read about a study that was conducted and published by NC State University. The purpose of the study was to determine if racial bias played a part in a teacher’s decision to punish their students. In Wake County, only 24% of students are Black, however, they accounted for 55% of out-of-school suspensions in 2015. On top of that, Black students accounted for 65% of total class periods missed due to out-of-school suspensions. White students made up only 19% of out-of-school suspensions and accounted for a mere 13% of class periods missed which would tend to suggest that not only are Black students punished more frequently but for longer durations.

The study also suggests that teachers frequently are worse at identifying the emotions of their Black students. When shown actors portraying different emotions such as anger and surprise, prospective teachers are 1.5 times more likely to accurately identify the emotions of white adults than of black adults. They were also three times more likely to identify that the expression on a Black person’s face was associated with anger when in reality the person was not displaying anger at all. In addition, when later shown videos of misbehaving boys of different races doing the exact same thing and being asked to grade the boys on a scale of one to five in terms of the severity of their conduct, the Black children were rated at 3.37 on average whereas White children, who displayed identical conduct, were assigned scores of 2.12 on average, which was far less severe.

The observations obtained through this study help us to understand a concept known as implicit bias. Implicit biases are those that each of us possess and internalize in our values and attitudes which we do not realize. All people, Black, White, Latino, Asian, Native American, all of us possess these implicit biases. The only way we can address these biases is if we understand them and compensate for them in our behavior.

It’s not surprising that you would see far more Black students being suspended for longer periods of time based upon identical conduct engaged in by other students in light of the findings in this study where subtle gestures, facial expressions, and conduct are interpreted differently based upon our worldview and values that we have internalized. We can all do better in addressing implicit biases, however, we must work to eradicate them from our schools, our court systems, and other institutions which should be serving all people equally.