Sunday, January 22, 2023



                                 STATE SEN. KANDIE SMITH (D- EDGECOMBE, PITT)



By Cash Michaels

Contributing writer

If Black women in North Carolina want the right to wear their natural hair in any cultural style and condition that they please, they are going to have to fight for it at the General Assembly.

That’s where the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act has stalled in passage for the past several years, thanks to the Republican majority who apparently objects to African American hairstyles that don’t fit their idea of good grooming. Advocates say the ability to wear one’s hair in a type and style of one’s choosing is a civil right, and should be protected.

There have been stories of workers, and even children, made to return home because a supervisor or administrator objected to their cultural hairstyle.

State Sen. Kandie Smith (D-Edgecome, Pitt) was the sponsor of the CROWN Act at the General Assembly in February 2021 (HB 170) when she served as a two-term representative prior to being elected to the state Senate.

The bill read:

Enacts new GS 95-28.1 prohibiting any person, firm, corporation, unincorporated association, State agency, local government, or any other public or private entity from denying or refusing employment to any person, or discharging any person from employment, because of traits historically associated with race or on account of the person's hair texture or protective hairstyles (including, but not limited to, bantu knots, braids, locks, and twists). Defines race as including traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles. Specifies that this statute does not prevent a person from being discharged for cause.

Smith’s bill failed passage there, as well as in the state Senate, but she vows that she’s not finished advocating for this basic Black women’s right.

“Passing the CROWN Act in North Carolina was one of my main priorities while serving in the House of Representatives last session, and it will remain one as I begin my first term in the North Carolina Senate,” Sen. Smith said in a statement to this reporter.

“In my experience, the main obstacle we faced in our efforts to pass the CROWN Act was simply that many of my colleagues, particularly my Republican colleagues, just didn’t understand why a bill like this was necessary. A piece of legislation like the CROWN Act would be transformational to the lives and experiences of all North Carolinians, and it would be a major win for the economic and business climate of our state as well.” 

Sen. Smith continued, “Over the past year, I have continued to try and educate my colleagues about the necessity of passing the CROWN Act in North Carolina, and I am hopeful that during this upcoming legislative session we will be able to make further progress on this important issue.”

If Sen. Smith does find a way to convince North Carolina Republicans to support passage of the CROWN Act, she would do well to share that secret with Sen. Cory Booker (D- NJ) in the United States Senate. Booker sponsored passage of the CROWN Act there after the US House passed the measure (H.R. 2116) in March 2022, only to have conservative Senator Rand Paul (Ky) block passage in the Senate.

As of last year, 18 states, led by California which codified the law first, have the CROWN Act on the books.

The other 17 states include New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Colorado, Washington, Connecticut, Delaware, New Mexico, Nevada, Nebraska, Oregon, Illinois, Maine, Tennessee, U.S. Virgin Islands (Territory).

Whether North Carolina will join the ranks is not clear, especially with Republican lawmakers vowing to oppose anything they consider “woke.”

The same can be said about the CROWN Act’s chances in the U.S. Senate.

“It saddens and angers me that, in the year 2022, something as simple as opposing racial discrimination has become controversial, stated Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) after Senate Republicans used the filibuster to block passage. “My colleagues across the aisle were presented with an opportunity to stand united against discrimination. They chose instead to give in to the climate of division and hyper-partisanship.”

Maryland Democratic Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley was just as resolute.

That Republicans would block passage of the CROWN Act in the Senate is unconscionable, but unsurprising given their blatant disregard for civil rights and contempt for Black, brown, and marginalized communities,” said Rep. Pressley. “Black hair is beautiful, and no amount of racism or ignorance from the other side of the aisle will stop the power of our movement. I won’t stop pressing to ban race-based hair discrimination and I urge the Senate to use any legislative avenue to pass this critical bill and send it to President Biden’s desk.”



                                                  NCCU LAW PROFESSOR IRVING JOYNER





By Cash Michaels

Contributing writer

Professor, attorney and legal analyst Irving Joyner of North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham says now that Republicans have a definitive 5 - 2 majority on the state Supreme Court, the Black community should pay attention to the warnings Democrat Associate Justice Anita Earls issued last week during an MLK holiday speech where she told an audience that citizens should be concerned about the racial disparity in the state’s criminal justice system, and challenged them “to be willing to not be silent.”

Though Republicans won two Democratic seats on the High Court last November, thus taking over the court majority 5-2 January 1st, the justices for the new term don’t begin hearing arguments until January 31st.

With the loss of two of those Democrats in 2022, the Republicans gained complete control of the Court and resulted in the emergence of the most right-wing Court since the 1960s,” Joyner says. “The newly elected members of this new Court have already demonstrated [their] resolve to follow a rigid right-wing judicial philosophy which gives almost complete deference to enactments of the [Republican-led] General Assembly and refuses to give broader and more progressive interpretations to the provisions of the North Carolina Constitution.”

        Evidence of what Prof. Joyner says was on display this week when NC Policywatch reported that Republican legislative leaders have asked the new conservative High Court to throw out the rulings of last year's Democratic-led Supreme Court nullifying voter ID and redistricting, and grant new hearings.

     "This petition is another example of legislative leadership stopping at nothing to infringe on the right of African-Americans to vote freely in North Carolina," said Jeff Loperfido, interim chief counsel of Voting Rights at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

Justice Earls said there are 15-18 judicial clerks for the state Supreme Court at any given time. The clerks work closely with the justices, but presently, there are no African-American clerks. These positions are a gateway to higher legal service.

Joyner says, “In latter elections, Republican candidates for the Supreme Court have been former judicial clerks of the right-wing justices on the Court and their electoral  successes have been strongly promoted by the most right-wing legislators and supporters within the Republican Party. As a result, Republicans have gained control of the North Carolina Court of Appeals and its Supreme Court.”

“Generally, African Americans and attorneys of color have not represented clients in the appellate arena except in those criminal cases which are represented by appointed attorneys through the NC Indigent Defense Services or from civil rights organizations, “ Prof. Joyner continued. “In the absence of an attorney of color appearing in these courts, the views and legal interests of racial minorities are not presented and considered by appellate judges. In addition, new African Americans and attorneys of color are not being hired as judicial clerks because there isn’t a demonstrated interest by the leadership of the Supreme Court in creating and maintaining racial diversity in this judicial pipeline.

Justice Earls did share last week how “…an internal diversity committee that she participated in last year was disbanded recently. When she asked why, Earls says she was told there was no need for it, and what purpose did it serve.” 

"Then she said she was told it was more important to “hire the most qualified people” for the state judiciary.”

Earls did credit Gov. Cooper with finding qualified legal professionals of color to appoint at least a full 40% of all of his appointments to the judiciary.

Joyner applauds the governor for seeking diversity on the bench.

Across the state, there is a wide pool of African Americans and attorneys of color who are qualified to serve as judges and they have been regularly appointed by Governor Cooper and subsequently elected by voters in local communities. That success has not been replicated in statewide elections since the elections of Associate Justices Anita Earls and Michael Morgan.”

Earls said that the governor’s success shows that the potential is out there, and that more can be done to make North Carolina’s criminal justice system representative,

Prof. Joyner says while true, the current composition of the state’s Supreme and Appellate courts does not bode well for African Americans.

Given its present composition and political inclinations, the North Carolina Court system is in danger of following the extreme right-wing drift that we envision to now guide the political based-judicial opinions which we expect from the United States Supreme Court,” Joyner said. 

“This drift will continue unless and until African Americans, people of color and our political leaders develop concentrated campaigns to elect more racially and politically diverse people to our appellate courts. As it stand now, we can expect very conservative decisions from North Carolina’s appellate courts in areas of law which most significantly impact the constitutional and political interests of African Americans, people of color and members of other minority and disadvantaged communities.”

Prof. Joyner continued, “Our courts should be independent and willing to protect the people from the political excesses of the right-wing legislative delegations which seek to exercise absolute control over the lives of North Carolina citizens.”


No comments:

Post a Comment