$500 Million Opium Poppy Field Accidentally Found In North Carolina

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Supreme Court’s North Carolina congressional districts ruling could mean trouble for similar Texas cases


WASHINGTON — In striking down North Carolina’s congressional district map, the Supreme Court sent Texas a firm warning Monday about how the state’s case may fare if it reaches that stage.

The 5-3 North Carolina ruling affirmed a previous district court decision, which found that Republican state legislators there had “packed” black voters into two Democratic-held districts to dilute the impact of minority votes in other congressional seats.

Written by Justice Elena Kagan, the ruling is the latest in a series of rejections from the Supreme Court in recent years towards redistricting efforts that include racial considerations. The court demanded the review of Virginia state legislature districts in March and also ruled against Alabama’s state legislature districts in 2015.

Even Justice Clarence Thomas, a conservative skeptic of discrimination complaints in the past, sided with the majority in the North Carolina case.

Kagan wrote that the court offers “significant deference” to the district court’s ruling, leaving Texas with the tall order of proving that the lower courts made a “clear error” in the earlier judgments.

Perhaps most significantly, Kagan detailed the court’s opinion in a footnote that using a political defense does not necessarily solve the racial issues. Some Republican-controlled states have argued that, rather than discriminating against minorities, they were merely intending to discriminate against Democrats.

That reliance on partisan gerrymandering as a legal excuse will not hold, Kagan wrote.

As Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California Irvine, summed up his reaction to the distinction: “Holy cow this is a big deal.

“This will lead to many more successful racial gerrymandering cases in the American South and elsewhere, and allow these cases to substitute for (so far unsuccessful) partisan gerrymandering claims involving some of these districts,” Hasen wrote on his blog.

Justice Samuel Alito penned a dissent in the case, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy — but it is the majority’s opinion that will hold legal precedence moving forward.

"Partisan gerrymandering is always unsavory, but that is not the issue here," Alito wrote. "The issue is whether District 12 was drawn predominantly because of race. The record shows that it was not."

The Texas cases

A three-judge panel in federal district court in San Antonio ruled in March that Texas’ 2011 congressional maps were racially gerrymandered to dilute minority voters. The judges did not detail next steps, likely reserving any potential remedies for when they hear a follow-up case on the 2013 maps in July.

The court specifically took issue with the districts held by Republican Reps. Will Hurd of San Antonio, Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christi and Michael Burgess of Lewisville, as well as Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin.

But the forthcoming July hearing on the 2013 map, which was drawn as a temporary fix as the 2011 map faced challenges, is where major changes could be either ordered or avoided.

The San Antonio judges said in their order announcing the trial on the 2013 map that it was taking into consideration the time crunch at hand given the upcoming 2018 elections, meaning they may seek to rule quickly if they hope to fix the maps by that time.

Some of the boundaries that the court took issue with in the 2011 maps are identical to those in the 2013 version.

A spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the North Carolina ruling. But Paxton has previously expressed confidence in the state’s 2013 maps after the district court struck down the 2011 effort.

“The adoption of those maps in 2013 mooted any issue with the 2011 maps. There are no lines to redraw,” Paxton said in a written statement at the time. “Accordingly, we are confident we will prevail in this case.”

Michael Li, a redistricting expert and senior counsel at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, said the North Carolina ruling will be an “important decision” for the other districting efforts winding through the legal system, including those in Texas.

“It makes clear that this isn’t about any sort of talismanic test or anything like that but that you actually have to delve into the facts and circumstances about how maps are drawn,” Li said. “So even a district that looks pretty and has nice lines and everything like that can still be problematic, and it’s really up to the trial court to delve into that.”

Brewing Supreme Court battle

Democrats in Texas celebrated the ruling as a promising indication of how their arguments will fare moving forward.

“I am happy that North Carolina voters secured another victory against the national Republican crusade to undermine the voting power of African Americans and Hispanics in local, state, and federal elections,” said Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, who has been on the front lines of another legal case against Texas’ voter ID law.

Though the North Carolina decision may be a setback for Texas’ chances, it will not necessarily be determinative of the outcome. As Kagan reiterated, the specific details of the districts matter greatly. And newly confirmed Justice Neil Gorsuch will be able to hear the Texas case, whereas the North Carolina arguments occurred before he took his seat on the court.

While Li said he was reticent to predict Paxton’s decision-making, he expects the North Carolina case will factor into how he handles Texas’ efforts moving forward.

“It should be a warning to states about how the court is going to look at these cases, but that doesn’t mean that Texas won’t appeal,” Li said. “It is fact-specific and there’s a lot politically riding on these decisions, and sometimes taking your chance at the Supreme Court can be important.”

But if Texas does not have more success in district court defending the 2013 map than it did in defending the 2011 map, the North Carolina decision suggests that the state is not likely to find a receptive audience in appealing to the nation’s highest court.

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North Carolina’s U.S. Senator Tillis collapses at charitable race: AP

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) questions Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., in this file photo dated March 21, 2017.

United States Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina collapsed while competing in a three-mile charitable race in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday morning, the Associated Press reported.

Tillis, a Republican, was participating in the ACLI Capital Challenge 3 Mile Team Race when he suddenly fell unconscious, the AP reported. Bystanders performed CPR on the 57-year-old, who appeared to be breathing when he was led away in an ambulance, the AP said.

A spokesman for Tillis declined to comment.

Fellow politicians, including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, sent their well wishes to Tillis and his family on social media.

"Please pray for my Senate colleague," Rubio wrote on Twitter.

Tillis, who previously served as speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, unseated Democrat Kay Hagan in the 2014 U.S. Senate elections.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Bernard Orr)

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Cooper optimistic about many more corporate expansions into NC

Sealed Air has officially moved to Charlotte, marking the city’s largest corporate relocation in history. The manufacturer, perhaps best known as the maker of Bubble Wrap and other packaging materials, on Wednesday held a ribbon-cutting of its new corporate headquarters off Tyvola Road.

For North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, the event marked the first of many major corporate relocations to North Carolina that he hopes to see during his time in office.

“When you get these kinds of quality jobs and open up an amazing facility for employees, it’s a good day,” Cooper said Wednesday. “I’ve said many times that I want to work to get more money into people’s pockets. The better-paying jobs that we can bring to our state help to do that. I’m excited about having many more of these announcements.”

At its 32-acre campus off Tyvola Road near the airport, the Fortune 500 company now employs over 1,110 people. Sealed Air CEO Jerome Peribere said that workforce figure will grow once Sealed Air closes the deal to sell its Diversey Care unit, which represents about a third of the company, for $3.2 billion.

Cooper said the repeal of House Bill 2, the state’s controversial bill limiting legal protections for LGBT citizens, helped lift a shadow that had been cast over the state’s economy. Many companies, such as PayPal, decided against major expansions to North Carolina over opposition to HB2.

“I think that’s helped open the door for businesses in North Carolina. I’ve talked to a number of CEOs, and they feel comfortable to come to our state. Clearly sporting events are coming back. It’s important to our reputation, but it’s also important for our LGBT citizens in North Carolina,” Cooper said.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

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For-Profit Charlotte Law School Is Subject of North Carolina Inquiry

As it battles to stay open, Charlotte School of Law is blaming its problems on the federal government, the law school accreditation body and disgruntled former students who have sued the school.

Now, the for-profit school in North Carolina faces a fresh challenge in the form of a civil investigation opened by the state attorney general’s office.

“We are looking into whether students were able to make decisions about attending the school with the full information they needed,” Josh Stein, the attorney general, said in a phone interview. “This affects a lot of students and involves a lot of money. Students had an average of $50,000 in loans a year.”

About 700 students were enrolled at the law school as of last fall, and from the fall of 2010 to the spring of 2016, the school received $337.1 million in federal student loans for tuition and student living expenses, according to Law School Transparency, a nonprofit that tracks data about the nation’s law schools.

Enrollment plunged, however, after the American Bar Association’s accreditors placed the school on probation in November. A short time later, the federal Education Department cut off loans to current students because, it said, the school had made “substantial misrepresentations” to students about its compliance with accreditation standards.

“Students made decisions worth tens of thousands of dollars,” Mr. Stein, a Democrat, said, “and they deserved full information. We are looking into whether the school may have misrepresented any information.”

Depending on what the investigation yields, Mr. Stein said, the attorney general’s office could initiate legal action seeking financial relief for students and could also impose civil penalties.

The law school did not respond to a request for comment.

Charlotte School of Law officials have said previously that they were required to keep confidential the accreditation shortfalls identified by the bar association early last year. The failings did not become public until the 11-year-old school’s formal probation was disclosed in November.

Mr. Stein’s office wrote to Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, in April to ask that her department extend the deadline for Charlotte students to discharge student loans. Currently, students enrolled within 120 days of a school’s closing are eligible to have their loan balances wiped off the books.

If the law school closes, but does not announce it soon, students would lose the ability to have their debts canceled.

Several months ago, school officials asked the bar association to approve an alternative teaching plan for the 220 students still enrolled there, but the school has not taken visible action to close its doors.

Charlotte School of Law is one of three struggling for-profit schools owned by the Infilaw Corporation, part of Sterling Partners, a private equity firm with offices in Baltimore and Chicago. Infilaw also owns Florida Coastal School of Law and Arizona Summit Law School.

The Charlotte school’s problems in recent months have included nearly $150,000 in overdue city and county taxes, a revenue shortfall that prompted the subletting of classroom space and an interim dean stepping down within a month of being hired.

Many law schools in the United States are enduring rocky times — the number of students pursuing law degrees nationwide has fallen sharply in the past several years — but few have teetered as publicly as Charlotte.

Last month, though, trustees at Whittier College, in California, announced unexpectedly that they would close its law school. The move made Whittier Law School the first fully accredited law school to meet that fate. Faculty members have said they will challenge the decision in court.

Charlotte School of Law students, citing the school’s failure to make the accreditation problems public, have filed individual lawsuits and suits seeking class-action status in which they accuse the school of breach of contract, among other accusations.

The school argues in court papers that the delayed disclosure of the accreditation information did not harm the students because “they were already enrolled or had graduated” when the bar association made its decision.

“These students had access to a wealth of information about graduate employment rates and admissions data through the disclosures the A.B.A. requires every school to make annually,” the school says in the papers, filed in federal court for the Western District of North Carolina.

The school blames the federal Education Department’s “ill-advised” loan freeze after the probation determination for precipitating the trouble.

In an April 14 letter to Ms. DeVos, Chidi Ogene, the law school’s president, asked that the federal loans be reinstated. Mr. Ogene said in the letter that the school had adopted measures to rectify deficiencies, including imposing some caps on enrollment, higher admissions criteria, and “enhanced student disclosures and communications beyond those mandated by law, all subject to verification by an independent monitor.”

The Education Department, which has not yet resumed the loans, did not respond to requests for comment.

About 100 students are set to graduate on Saturday. The school has notified them that absent the federal funds, they may pay their outstanding tuition with private loans the school is providing at zero interest and payable over 10 years.

It was unclear whether graduates must sign up for the loans in order to receive degrees. Without a degree, they cannot take a state bar exam in North Carolina or elsewhere to qualify to practice law.

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For Gamecocks under Will Muschamp, Charlotte and North Carolina are ‘critical’ to recruiting efforts

CHARLOTTE — When head coach Will Muschamp arrived at South Carolina, the Gamecocks’ football program had just one player from the city of Charlotte — and he was born in Charleston.

Linebacker Larenz Bryant, whose injury-plagued career ended in graduation last year, had been USC’s lone representative from the Queen City proper. The Gamecocks will add another when offensive tackle signee Eric Douglas arrives on campus, the beginning of what Muschamp hopes is a more reliable recruiting haul out of the largest city in the Carolinas.

USC will have a chance to increase its Charlotte profile on Sept. 2, when the Gamecocks open the 2017 campaign against North Carolina State at Bank of America Stadium. It will be the second time in three years USC has opened in the Carolina Panthers’ facility against an opponent from the Old North State, with more coming in 2019 and 2023.

“We have a lot of guys we recruit in this area,” Muschamp said Monday at a Charlotte Sports Foundation meeting at Quail Hollow Country Club, site of this year’s PGA Championship. “I think it’s great exposure for our program, exposure for future players to be able to see the Gamecocks play. But there are some outstanding players and coaches in this area.”

Although USC has long enjoyed success recruiting in Rock Hill — home of, among others, former Gamecocks All-American and 2015 overall No. 1 NFL draft pick Jadeveon Clowney — that degree of prosperity hasn’t extended across the state line. When USC met North Carolina in the 2015 season opener in Charlotte, the Tar Heels boasted 18 players from the Queen City, and the Gamecocks only Bryant.

Muschamp is trying to change that in a city that boasts thousands of USC alumni working in the Charlotte banking industry, sends hundreds of incoming freshmen to Columbia each fall, and saw more garnet than light blue in Bank of America Stadium when the Gamecocks last played there under former head coach Steve Spurrier two seasons ago.

“We’ve got three coaches full-time here that recruit the Charlotte area, and we have six that recruit the state of North Carolina. But there’s some really good players here," said Muschamp, who appeared along with North Carolina State head coach Dave Doeren.

USC has made inroads in North Carolina before. Muschamp mentioned Melvin Ingram from Halmet, Travian Robertson from Laurinburg, and Pharoh Cooper and Corey Robinson from Havelock. "There are some really good players from the state of North Carolina … who have come to South Carolina and played and had great careers,” he said.

They need more. “It’s critical for us to do a good job in North Carolina, because of the lack of numbers in our state. Only having four a half million people, we’ve got to be able to recruit the state of North Carolina.”

Muschamp said he likes the idea of neutral-site games in areas where USC recruits heavily, such as Charlotte, Atlanta and Florida. But he cautioned that the Gamecocks’ recruiting fortunes in Charlotte won’t hinge on the outcome of the Sept. 2 season opener against the Wolfpack.

“I don’t know that one game defines you as far as recruiting. If it does define you with a recruit, I don’t know if you want the recruit,” he said. “But I think the exposure as much as anything, the style of offense, the style of defense, special teams and the way your team plays, I think can help you with a recruit.”

— USC’s preseason camp will open July 27, Muschamp said. And he doesn’t expect practice to be impacted by a recent SEC rule change eliminating two-a-day practices in the preseason. When USC did hold two-a-days, he said, the second session was a non-contact practice in helmets. Now, a second practice in a single day must be a walkthrough or meeting.

“I understand the legislation moving forward, to have a one-a-day practice, to be able to still have walkthroughs and those sort of things I think are important,” he said. “The way the calendar was set up, you only had two or three two-a-days, anyway, even if you wanted to be in full pads. We did it them helmets, to take some of the hit off them. And we’re so thin, we can’t afford any injuries.”

As Complaints Pile Up, North Carolina Rethinks Public-Private Road Project

CORNELIUS, N. C.—When North Carolina brought in a private operator to add toll lanes to a 26-mile stretch of highway north of Charlotte, its goal was to reduce congestion and build a road the state couldn’t otherwise afford.

The hope was that the state’s first public-private partnership for roads would be a model of efficiency and the first of many such projects. But the expansion of Interstate 77 has hit speed bumps, with travel…