Late this morning, Governor Bev Perdue vetoed the bill which would have gutted the Racial Justice Act (RJA). The RJA is a two-year-old law which allows defendants in death penalty cases to introduce statistical evidence that racial bias affected their death sentence. It’s rebuttable evidence, which means that prosecutors could introduce evidence of their own, but it was almost universally opposed by district attorneys, at least some of whom might be worried about what that statistical evidence would reveal. Under the law, if someone is taken off Death Row because of racial bias in his trial, he would still serve a sentence of life without parole, in spite of efforts by RJA opponents to say that the RJA would turn murderers loose to “roam the streets”.
The North Carolina Council of Churches was a co-sponsor of a 2001 study which demonstrated the effect of race on the death penalty in NC. We supported passage of the RJA, and we encouraged Gov. Perdue to veto the gutting bill, including at a face-to-face meeting with her just last week. Many of you have also worked to preserve the Racial Justice Act.
The battle now returns to the General Assembly, which will have the option of trying to overturn the veto, most likely in early January.
Please do two things right away. (I know, it’s Advent, and Christmas is just over a week away. But this one is important.)
1) Communicate with Gov. Perdue to thank her for her courageous veto. She was under tremendous pressure to let the bill become law. Even the national media had focused some attention on the issue. Please let her know that you appreciate her veto.
2) Communicate with your Representative and your Senator to ask them to vote to sustain the veto. While much of the attention will now focus on a handful of conservative Democrats in the House, legislators who have voted for other veto overrides, all legislators need to hear from people of faith who support the Racial Justice Act. If you are dealing with legislators who support rolling back the RJA, be respectful, but let them know that you think race does make a difference with the death penalty and that you think that racial bias is abhorrent, especially in matters of life and death. If your legislators voted against gutting the RJA earlier, thank them and let them know that you expect them to continue to vote against it on the veto override. If you don’t know how your legislators voted, click here for the House vote and click here for the Senate.
-George Reed, Executive Director
Contacting your State Legislators
By e-mail: Legislative e-mail addresses follow the pattern of <first name dot last firstname.lastname@example.org>. (Example: Speaker Thom Tillis’ address is Thom.Tillis@ncleg.net.) If you have any question about the spelling of your legislator’s name or whether your legislator’s e-mail address uses a nickname, you can confirm addresses at the General Assembly’s web site: www.ncleg.net. Click on “House” or “Senate” and look for Member Lists.
By postal service mail: All legislators can be addressed at: North Carolina General Assembly, Raleigh, NC 27601-1096.
To find out who your legislators are, go to the General Assembly’s web site: www.ncleg.net. Look for “Who Represents Me?” near the top of the homepage. You will find a variety of ways to search, including through your nine-digit ZIP Code. (And there’s a link to the Postal Service if you don’t know yours.) For those without Internet access, local Boards of Elections can be asked for assistance.
To Contact the Governor
By phone: (919) 733-4240
By Fax: (919) 733-2120
Governor Bev Perdue
Office of the Governor
20301 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-0301
By e-mail: email@example.com