Lawmakers override N.C. governor veto of Racial Justice Act changes
RALEIGH —North Carolina's legislature voted July 2 to override Governor Bev Perdue's veto of a law that will limit the ability of death-row prisoners to use statistical evidence of racial bias to challenge their sentences.
The prior week, Perdue vetoed the bill that would have undermined the Racial Justice Act, a law the N.C. bishops urged against changing in a Catholic Voice N.C. alerts last month.
North Carolina's two Catholic bishops are urged the faithful to contact their state legislators over changes to the state's Racial Justice Act. The 2009 state law, which was championed by the bishops, allows defendants the ability to prove if race played a significant factor in their death sentences or jury selection.
Bishop Michael F. Burbidge and Bishop Peter J. Jugis asked Catholics in North Carolina to contact their state legislators asking them to vote against the override vote, an a Catholic Voice N.C alert issued June 29.
In a letter sent by the Bishops to Governor Perdue urging her veto of the "Amend Death Penalty Procedures," they noted enactment of the new law would be a step backwards, rather than one which would continue to ensure that the accused in our State receive fair and just treatment, without any shadow of racism.
Senate Bill 416, entitled "Amend Death Penalty Procedures," was the General Assembly's second attempt to get rid of the Racial Justice Act, which the state's prosecutors vehemently oppose. Last year Perdue vetoed the earlier bill. The Senate overrode the veto, and has the votes to do it again last year, but the House couldn't muster the three-fifths majority needed.
"As long as I am governor, I will fight to make sure the death penalty stays on the books in North Carolina," Perdue said in a statement June 28. "But it has to be carried out fairly – free of prejudice.
"Three years ago, North Carolina took steps to achieve this result by passing the Racial Justice Act. In response to the enactment of this historic law, our State has rightfully received national acclaim for taking a positive and long overdue step to make sure racism does not infect the way the death penalty is administered.
"This year's Senate Bill 416 is not a "compromise bill"; it guts the Racial Justice Act and renders it meaningless," Perdue said in a statement. "It is simply unacceptable for racial prejudice to play a role in the imposition of the death penalty in North Carolina."
Bishop Jugis and Bishop Burbidge called the proposed changes "problematic." Here is their previous alert:
"We write to ask your support in protecting the Racial Justice Act, which is currently the law in our State. As you may recall, we supported the introduction and passage of the Act in 2009, and expressed our gratitude to our legislators in the North Carolina State Assembly upon it becoming law," the bishops wrote in a statement issued June 18 through Catholic Voice NC, their nonpartisan public policy arm.
"In 2011, we opposed a measure in the Assembly that would have effectively nullified the Racial Justice Act. This Bill was subsequently vetoed by Governor Beverly Perdue. This same legislation from last year has now been modified and re-introduced under a different name, yet with the same net effect, which is to nullify the Racial Justice Act.
"The elimination of these key provisions from the Racial Justice Act is problematic as the Act has already provided the opportunity for defendants to demonstrate that racial bias has unjustly affected capital murder trials here in North Carolina.
"The elimination of these provisions in the Act is therefore not acceptable for us as Catholics, as we believe in the immeasurable dignity and equal worth of all people, and reject any unjust treatment or discrimination against the human person.
Thus, we believe that the Racial Justice Act should be preserved as law in North Carolina and we respectfully request that you contact your state Senator as soon as possible and encourage his or her vote against Senate Bill 416."
To get more information about the proposed legislation or to contact your legislators, go to www.catholicvoicenc.org.
— Catholic News Herald