July 5, 2012, 5:04 PM By ANDREW ROSENTHAL
In 2009, North Carolina’s lawmakers surprised everyone by passing the Racial Justice Act, the first law in the nation to allow death row inmates to get their sentences reduced to life without parole if they could show their case was tainted by racial bias. It seemed like a watershed moment for a state that has played a key part in this nation’s bitter history of racism.
That lasted until late last year, when the legislature decided to repeal that law and replace it with a mockery of justice. Then Gov. Bev Purdue displayed real courage by vetoing the new measure and making the Racial Justice Act stick.
It took a few months, but the North Carolina legislature managed on Mondayto finish the job. It passed a bill that disposes of the Racial Justice Act and replaces it with a law that so severely limits the proof an inmate can use to show race bias that it renders it useless. It doesn’t allow an inmate to use statistical data, for instance, to demonstrate racial bias in death sentences and requires him to show discrimination in the place he was sentenced, not in the entire state.
Only last April, a judge rescinded a death sentence for the first time under the Racial Justice Act, saying that evidence of racial bias in jury selection across North Carolina showed a clear need to overhaul the system of choosing jurors in death penalty cases.
Linc Caplan, who covers legal issues for the Times editorial board, said that North Carolina’s prosecutors were behind the gutting of the Racial Justice Act.
“Experts in the state can’t think of one prosecutor who has explained the repeated patterns of an all-white or 11 white, 1 black, juries in death penalty cases,” he said. “Those types of juries convicted and sentenced to death scores of people in 30 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, according to an NAACP brief, where prosecutors systematically excluded qualified black jurors through peremptory challenges. The notion that justice was done in these cases was a fraud.”
This development would be distressing enough, but there’s more: The same Republican-dominated legislature overrode the governor’s veto of another blatantly discriminatory bill this week. That bill aims to strip Planned Parenthood of all state funding.
Lawmakers tried first to do just that, but a judge blocked it, so the lawmakers passed a bill that bans all private contractors from getting state funding for contraception. Gov. Perdue vetoed it, and the legislature worked extra late on Monday to override her veto.
Like all of these attacks on Planned Parenthood, the North Carolina law is based on the lie that it is aimed at curbing abortions. In fact, the state money didn’t go to abortion services, which are a minute portion of Planned Parenthood’s operations. What this really does is cut women—especially poor women—off from essential health services, such as contraception, STD prevention and treatment, family planning, breast cancer screening and whatever else lawmakers like those in North Carolina don’t want to pay for.
I know the political climate in this country is so poisonous that some right-wing politicians feel emboldened to pass these kinds of reckless laws, but it’s depressing to see it happening. You’d think the political leaders North Carolina would want a better image.