By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Called back to Raleigh to entertain the governor’s veto of changes to the Racial Justice Act, the General Assembly instead overrode another veto, that of Senate Bill 727, which stops the N.C. Association of Educators from using payroll deduction to collect dues from teachers’ pay. The veto override, taken up in the House during the wee hours of Thursday morning, presumably to skirt rules limiting Wednesday’s session to S 9 (No Discriminatory Purpose in Death Penalty), angered Democrats and drew sharp criticism from Gov. Bev Perdue, who called it an “unconstitutional power grab.”
The Senate had already overridden Perdue’s veto of the NCAE bill, so it now becomes law. NCAE Spokesman Brian Lewis told the media Thursday that his group will challenge the statute in court.
On Wednesday, the Senate voted along party lines to override Perdue’s veto of S 9, which would have repealed some provisions of the Racial Justice Act that now allows convicted murderers to use statistics from other locations and time periods to try to prove the possibility of discrimination in their cases. District Attorneys throughout the state have decried the 2009 law as an exercise in futility and a tremendous waste of resources. They point to RJA appeals now filed by white death row inmates convicted by white juries of killing white victims as proof of the law’s ambiguity.
Attorney Thom Goolsby (R-New Hanover) told fellow Senators during Wednesday’s hourlong debate that the Racial Justice Act was a “Trojan horse,” and a backdoor attempt to end the death penalty in North Carolina. He applauded Cleveland County District Attorney Richard Shaffer for calling the governor out on her veto of S 9 and read portions of Shaffer’s letter of resignation from the Governor’s Crime Commission. The letter described how the RJA not only delays victims’ rights to justice, but in the worst case scenario could allow murderers to be released.
Also during debate, Sen. Don East (R-Surry) shared a painful personal story about the death of his father, a law enforcement officer murdered in the line of duty, whose killer eventually died in prison. He said the RJA was a blatant attempt to end the death penalty and asked for the veto override.
But Sen. Martin Nesbitt (Buncombe) and other Democrats insisted the law was needed to maintain confidence in the judicial system.
Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) referred to Wendell Willkie’s observation that “a good catchword can obscure analysis for fifty years” and said that would likely be the case with the Racial Justice Act because “Who can be against ‘racial justice’?” But he said the original version of the law was simply not the right tool to fix the perceived problem.
The House delayed any consideration of the Governor’s veto of S 9 as they waited for Perdue to appoint former lawmaker Trudi Walend to represent Henderson, Polk and Transylvania counties following Republican David Guice’s departure from the House to direct Community Corrections for the state’s new Department of Public Safety. A GOP executive committee in her district chose Walend, who had served the House from 2000 to 2009, to fill Guice’s seat. When she had not been appointed by Wednesday afternoon House Speaker Thom Tillis challenged the governor, who said she was waiting for Walend’s final piece of paperwork, an economic-interest statement. She signed the appointment Wednesday evening and Walend was sworn in shortly afterward.
Even with the filled slot, the Majority Party apparently didn’t believe they had enough votes to override the S 9 veto and, instead, sent it to a judiciary committee after which a new 10-member committee, the House Select Committee on Racial Discrimination in Capital Cases, was formed to work out differences on the issue which could still be taken up in May.
In addition to Walend, another new member welcomed to the General Assembly this week was Sen. Chris Carney (R-Gaston), who was appointed to fill the seat of the recently deceased Sen. Jim Forrester. Carney told the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, that he was a strong supporter of the family values advocated by the League and expected to be found a “good ally.”
Sen. Harris Blake (R-Moore) was unanimously elected to the Senate post of Deputy President Pro-tempore, which had been held by Forrester. During his swearing in, his only daughter, Joy, held the Bible for him. In his acceptance speech, Blake spoke affectionately of his recently deceased wife. Dr. Creech said Blake has always been a good friend of the Christian Action League.
Creech said he also looked forward to working with Rep. Walend once again.
“Many people may not know it, but it was Walend who got the ball rolling on what was ultimately to become Ethen’s Law, which passed in 2011,” he said. “Also known as the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, is North Carolina’s version of a fetal homicide law that criminalizes killing an unborn child in a variety of instances.”
“Let’s remember to pray for all of these lawmakers,” he added.