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The NC NAACP Exposes the Racial Discrimination at the Heart of North Carolina's Vouchers Program and Voter Suppression Law

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DURHAM - The NC NAACP, its legal team and litigation partners challenged two of the extremist initiatives pushed by Gov. Pat McCrory, Speaker Thom Tillis, Senate Leader Phil Berger, Budget Director Art Pope and other Tea Party legislators who claim their proposals are not targeting racial minorities and the poor. "These two issues are connected," said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, president of the NC NAACP. "The people that are trying to keep minorities and the poor from voting are the same people that want to prevent our children from receiving a quality public education and the economic opportunities that such an education makes possible. We must be conscious of the racialized legacy of voter suppression and vouchers in North Carolina."

Dr. Barber, the NC NAACP legal team and its litigation allies said the voucher program, on its surface, purports to help minority and low-income children. But it has a racialized past just as ugly as the more widely-publicized attacks on voting rights.

"When you look at the voucher program that was stopped by a temporary injunction last week, you have to recognize there is a history here," Dr. Barber said. "That's why the NC NAACP filed a friend of the court brief in this case. We want to reveal the racialized history of school vouchers in North Carolina. After the NAACP's great victory in the 1954 Brown case, extremists in the state legislature used vouchers to fund white families setting up all-white academies with taxpayer money. They too used the rhetoric of school choice. This is old wine wrapped in a new wineskin."

So too is the extremists' voter suppression law. The disparate impact that these voting provisions have on people of color, low-income North Carolinians and other marginalized groups hearkens back to Jim Crow when extremists attempted to keep African Americans from the ballot box.

"The extremists passed the strictest voter ID and worst suppression law we have seen since Jim Crow," Dr. Barber said. "They did it directly after the Shelby decision when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. That was not a coincidence."

"Extremists in the General Assembly in 2013 pushed through discriminatory, unjust laws like school vouchers and voter suppression over the strong protests of tens of thousands of North Carolinians," he continued. "Now these ideological laws must face the strict scrutiny of the courts."

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Members of the legal team then spoke about the recent updates in the NC NAACP's litigation efforts to hold our lawmakers accountable.

Attorneys Elizabeth Haddix, who is representing the NC NAACP with the UNC Center of Civil Rights, and Jessica Holmes from the North Carolina Association of Educators, a co-plaintiff in the suit, spoke about the temporary injunction issued on Feb. 21 to halt any further implementation of the voucher program. 

Also on Feb. 21, a federal magistrate judge held a hearing on the state legislators' attempts to claim immunity for themselves and any documents they created around the voter suppression bill. Adam Stein, a long-term civil rights attorney and a member of the Advancement Project-led legal team in the voter ID challenge, explained at this morning's conference the importance of these emails, documents and other communications relating to how much the legislators knew about the harmful impact this bill would have on African Americans, the poor and women.

"The extremists in the General Assembly made the rounds of all the TV shows last summer to talk about how the voter suppression law was designed to fight fraud-even though there is no evidence of voter fraud," Dr. Barber said. "Yet now that we are challenging them with this lawsuit, these same lawmakers are attempting to claim immunity and to hide their documents from the careful and microscopic scrutiny of the courts."

According to Stein, Magistrate Joi Peake assured the NC NAACP and its legal team that she would oversee the discovery process to make sure the state government turned over documents before this summer's hearing on our motion to block the law from going into effect for the 2014 elections.

"These judges are bound to uphold the 1868 North Carolina constitution, and these challenges to the vouchers and to the voter suppression law are already beginning to prove that the constitution is on our side," Dr. Barber said. "We refuse to let Tea Party legislators claim they act out of a deep concern for the poor and for minorities when they in fact are passing laws that will only serve to rob low-income and minority North Carolinians of their constitutional rights to vote and to receive a sound, basic public education."

In explaining the historical context for the voucher and the voter suppression litigation efforts, Dr. Barber highlighted the following points:

  • In 1956, North Carolinians opposed to desegregation created the Pearsall Plan to provide vouchers to white students in schools that were attempting to integrate-thereby keeping the state's schools largely segregated for another 20 years. As our amicus brief notes, "this is the direct and notorious ancestry of school vouchers in North Carolina, and the corrupt foundation upon which the current voucher legislation is built."
  • Today, the pro-voucher forces are hiding behind their school-choice rhetoric and their alleged concern for the poor and for minorities. But the intellectual architects of their movement have written candidly about the need to recruit minority spokespeople to legitimize themselves. 
  • "The leadership must visibly include racial minorities of both sexes and prominent Democrats," John Coons and Stephan Sugarman wrote in their 1999 article. "The conservative commitment to the project is necessary, but should remain mute until the coalition has secured leadership whose party affiliation, social class or race--preferably all three--displays what the media will interpret as concern for the disadvantaged." See our amicus brief for the full excerpt.
  • Many poor children will not be able to take advantage of these vouchers because the average tuition for a NC private school is $2,000 more than the voucher stipend. But even if children of color could take advantage of the stipend, empirical evidence shows low-income and minority children perform better in public schools than in voucher programs. 
  • According to a new study from the Children's Law Clinic at Duke Law, only 30 percent of NC private schools are accredited by an independent agency. Among those schools with tuition rates fully covered by the voucher stipend, that percentage drops to less than five percent.
  • Dick Komer, who travelled to North Carolina to help the state's attorneys fight our voucher challenge, is an attorney with the libertarian law firm, Institute for Justice, which got its seed money from the Koch brothers and still operates with support from ultra-conservative donors like Art Pope and the Walton family.
  • If lawmakers want to truly help poor children succeed, they would fully fund our public schools as the state constitution requires rather than give taxpayer money to send a handful of children to unaccredited private schools.
  • A study from Democracy NC demonstrates that the new provisions included in the voter suppression bill will have a disproportionate impact on African Americans. For instance, more than 70 percent of African Americans used early voting in 2012 to cast their ballots, yet the extremists cut a week of early voting, including the popular Sunday voting before election day.
  • A court cannot fully restore the right to vote after it has been stripped from you. You may get the chance to vote again, but the people who were elected under unjust voting laws are still in office legislating policy.
  • Gov. Pat McCrory only turned over three documents to our legal team since we filed the lawsuit against the voter suppression law back in August. They are trying to ensure that we won't have the documents we need to prove our case in court and to win a temporary injunction to block these voter suppression tactics from going into effect during the 2014 elections. 

"These laws are an affront to who we are as North Carolinians," Dr. Barber said. "We will fight the attacks on voting rights and on public education. We say, let the people vote and let the children enjoy their constitutional right to a sound, basic, public education."

For more information about the racialized legacy of school vouchers and voter suppression tactics, please see the NC NAACP amicus brief on vouchers and the NC NAACP talking points on vouchers and voting rights.

MEDIA INQUIRIES: Atty. Jamie Phillips Cole, Public Policy Coordinator, 919.682.4700 

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. The NC Conference of NAACP Branches is 70 years old this year and is made up of over 100 Adult, Youth and College NAACP units across the state, convenes more than 160 members of the Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) People's Assembly Coalition, and is the architect of the Moral Monday & Forward Together Movement.   

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