3 JUDGE PANEL BLOCKS NC'S 20 WEEK ABORTION BAN: The law tightened the definition of a medical emergency and extended the waiting period before a woman could obtain an abortion, among other changes. The underlying law, both before and after the 2015 changes, allows abortion within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. “The amendments impose additional regulations on abortion providers by restricting who may perform abortions and what information providers must report to North Carolina; the amendments reduce the availability of abortion to women facing medical emergencies; and the amendments extend the mandated waiting period women must observe before obtaining an abortion,” a panel of three judges from the court wrote in a unanimous opinion.
REPUBLICAN "ELECTION INTEGRITY" BILL REQUIRES MAIL-IN BALLOTS ARRIVE ON ELECTION DAY: Under Senate Bill 326, dubbed the Election Day Integrity Act, all absentee ballots must be received by the time polls close on Election Day to count. Currently, ballots can arrive up to three days late, as long as they are postmarked by Election Day. "Election Day is the day when all of the votes are in and the counting begins," said Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke. "Every day that passes after Election Day with votes still coming in creates the possibility of distrust in the process. Every day that passes without a declared winner creates suspicion and conspiracy theories in people's minds." Daniel refused to answer repeated questions from Democratic senators as to whether he believed there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 elections. But he renewed Republican criticisms of the State Board of Elections' decision to settle a lawsuit last fall by accepting mailed ballots up to nine days after Election Day to accommodate an explosion in absentee voting during the pandemic. The bill passed on a 28-21 party-line vote and now heads to the House.
PARTY BUSES AND LEGAL RAVES COMING TO NC CARE OF GOP COCKTAIL CAUCUS: Travelers heading across the state by bus could soon buy cocktails, wine and beer along the way. House Bill 693 would legalize a new trend in other states where bus companies have added a bar to the chartered bus experience. The bill passed the House on Wednesday in an 89-14 vote. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tim Moffitt, a Henderson County Republican, said the services cater to “first class and business class” travelers, and he expects the routes would include Charlotte to Raleigh and Raleigh to Wilmington. House Bill 477 would allow event promoters to use vacant buildings on a trial basis without upgrading the spaces for building code and zoning purposes. Rep. Mark Brody, R-Union and sponsor of the bill, said the idea is to hold a small number of events to see if there’s demand and interest in the space before paying for renovations. Promoters would still need a safety inspection of the building first.
MEADOWS PUSHED JUSTICE DEPARTMENT TO INVESTIGATE CRACKPOT ITALIAN SATELLITE THEORY: They wanted the Justice Department to explore false claims that Dominion Voting Systems machines had been manipulated to alter votes in one county in Michigan. They asked officials about the U.S. government filing a Supreme Court challenge to the results in six states that Joe Biden won. The president’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, even shared with acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen a link to a YouTube video that described an outlandish plot in which the election had been stolen from Trump through the use of military satellites controlled in Italy. “Pure insanity,” Rosen’s deputy Richard Donoghue wrote to him privately. In the last weeks of 2020 and the first of 2021, the demands from Trump and his allies pushed the department to the brink of crisis. Though most scoffed at their increasingly far-fetched and desperate claims, one relatively high-ranking Justice Department lawyer seemed to entertain Trump’s requests — pushing internally to have the department assert that fraud in Georgia was cause for that state’s lawmakers to disregard its election results and appoint new electors. Trump contemplated installing him as attorney general, as other Justice Department leaders considered resigning en masse. The new emails show that three-week period leading up to Jan. 6 was a searing test of senior Justice officials. The department did examine some claims, and top officials forwarded some of the material from Trump allies to U.S. attorneys in Michigan and Pennsylvania. But they resisted the push to file a case with the Supreme Court seeking to challenge the election results. Ultimately, Trump’s pressure campaign seemed to resonate more with his supporters who came to D.C. to protest Jan. 6 — and then violently overran the U.S. Capitol — than with those in his own Justice Department.
BIDEN ADMIN (RE)OPENS THE DOOR TO ASYLUM SEEKERS FLEEING VIOLENCE: Attorney General Merrick B. Garland reversed on Wednesday Trump-era immigration rulings that had made it all but impossible for people to seek asylum in the United States over credible fears of domestic abuse or gang violence, marking one of the Justice Department’s most significant breaks with the previous administration. His decisions came in closely watched cases where his predecessors, the former attorneys general Jeff Sessions and William P. Barr, broke with precedent to overturn decisions by immigration appeals judges that would have allowed such asylum claims. The decisions — applicable to all cases in the system, including appeals — will affect tens of thousands of migrants. Hundreds of thousands of Central Americans fleeing gang extortion and recruitment and women fleeing domestic abuse have arrived in the United States since 2013, and many cases are still being adjudicated, given an enormous backlog in immigration courts. “These decisions involve important questions about the meaning of our nation’s asylum laws, which reflect America’s commitment to providing refuge to some of the world’s most vulnerable people,” the associate attorney general, Vanita Gupta, wrote in a memo to the Justice Department’s Civil Division. Ms. Gupta asked the Civil Division’s immigration arm to review pending cases that could be affected by Mr. Garland’s reversal. “We’re really heartened by this decision,” said Karen Musalo, a lawyer representing one of the asylum seekers and a professor at the University of California, Hastings, College of Law. “It restores the possibility of protection to those whose very lives are in the balance.”