Tierney Sneed

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.

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After a devastating setback at the U.S. Supreme Court, redistricting reformers got a key win in a partisan gerrymandering case in North Carolina’s state court on Tuesday.

A three-judge panel ruled that North Carolina’s 2017 state House and Senate plans violated several clauses in the state’s constitution. It’s the second time in recent years that partisan gerrymanders have been invalidated using a state constitution; Pennsylvania’s GOP-drawn maps were also thrown out due to state constitutional violations in a case that went all the way up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

These types of the state court challenges grew significantly more important after the U.S. Supreme Court said in June that the federal judiciary cannot rein in partisan gerrymandering.

On a press call with reporters Tuesday evening, the challengers in the North Carolina case — the voting rights group Common Cause, which was represented by the law firm Arnold & Porter — discussed the implications of the North Carolina state court decision and hinted at next steps that could be taken.

Here are three big takeaways:

Similar challenges in other states

If the Pennsylvania’s case was the tip of the spear, the ruling in North Carolina could be the beginning of the trend. The lawyers on the call pointed out that several other states have language in their constitutions similar or identical to the clauses that brought down the North Carolina maps.

An opinion in the Pennsylvania litigation mentioned 12 other states (which did not include North Carolina) that had so-called “free election” clauses in their constitutions identical to the clause relevant in that case.

Tuesday’s North Carolina ruling was “exclusively a state law decision,” Arnold & Porter attorney Stanton Jones said on the press call, meaning that it is “not reviewable in any respect by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

A state court challenge to U.S. congressional districts

The North Carolina case only dealt with its state legislative maps. Its U.S. congressional map is also tilted towards Republicans: the current delegation’s party breakdown is 8-3 (with two vacancies), despite the statewide popular vote being close to an even split in 2018.

The challengers on Tuesday’s phone call expressed optimism that North Carolina’s U.S. congressional map could be successfully challenged based on the same constitutional language in the state legislative redistricting case.

“Both congressional redistricting plans and state legislative districting plans are ultimately laws enacted by the state legislature and those laws are equally subject to the constraints of the state’s constitution,” Jones said.

It remains to be seen whether such a legal challenge will come to fruition or if the mere threat of a lawsuit will prompt the legislature to draw a fairer congressional map in the next round of redistricting.

More airing of the Hofeller files

The files of Thomas Hofeller, a now-deceased GOP gerrymandering expert who drew North Carolina’s 2017 maps, played a crucial role in the case in convincing the court that he had the “predominant focus” of maximizing Republicans’ advantage. The challengers subpoenaed the files after they learned his daughter had found them while going through his stuff.

Kathay Feng, Common Cause’s National Redistricting Director, said Tuesday’s decision was “truly a case of a person’s words ringing from the grave.”

“We know from interacting with Dr. Hofeller in many other states that before he passed that he was involved in gerrymandering in multiple states,” she said. “We expect that there is additional evidence that needs to come forward about partisan gerrymandering that was carried out in multiple states throughout the United States.”

She suggested that revealing the “truth” about how these maps were drawn would encourage the development of clear standards that would move states away from the “unconstitutional methods that have become so popular in the last decade.”

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Appeals Court Smacks Down Indiana’s Purge Process: An appeals court on Tuesday schooled Indiana on why it is illegal to purge people off the rolls without first giving them a warning. Indiana was using CrossCheck — an interstate database that finds matches of people who appear to be registered in multiple states — to automatically purge voters without first sending them the notices mandated by the National Voter Registration Act. With the appeals court’s decision, a lower court’s freeze on the practice will stay in place while the case is litigated.

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Beyond its rebuke of former FBI Director James Comey’s handling of President Trump-related memos, a Justice Department Inspector General report provides new information about how the memos came to be, how they made it into the hands of a Comey friend who leaked them to the press, and how the FBI learned that Comey was keeping and sharing his own copies of them.

Here’s a list of some of the reveals:

Comey Thought The First Memo He Wrote About a Trump Encounter Would Be The Last

How to brief Trump on the “salacious” claims in a Trump-Russia dossier was a topic of conversation at the FBI in early January 2017. FBI officials were seeking a “discreet” way to tell Trump about the claims, but they didn’t want to the incoming President to perceive the briefing as a “Hoover-esque type of plot” to hold information over him, according to the IG report.  They agreed that Trump’s response to the briefing —given one-on-one by Comey — might be relevant to the ongoing Russia probe. Comey also wanted a contemporaneous record of the briefing in case it became a “a source of controversy.” He said he didn’t have any plans to document his conversations with Trump beyond that.

Why Comey Shared The Memos With Only A Small Group at The FBI

Multiple people told the inspector general that Comey kept a tight hold on the memos — sharing them with only a small group of top officials — because he didn’t want them to impact the ongoing Russia probe.

A Whistleblower Provided the Inspector General a Set of the Memos

A short but tantalizing section of the report reveals that a unidentified DOJ whistleblower played a role in the inspector general’s investigation.

Page and Strzok Helped Assemble The Full Set of Memos After Comey Was Fired

Lisa Page and Peter Stzok — the FBI officials who later came under fire for their anti-Trump texts — collected a full set of memos and then uploaded them to the FBI’s case management system. They and others at the FBI told the inspector general they considered the memos to be FBI records, rather than personal documents, as Comey described them.

The Backstory On How A Comey Friend Became an NYT Source

Comey would ultimately share some of those memos with his friend, Daniel Richman with the instructions that Richman share it with the media. Earlier than that though, Comey told Richman about two meals he shared with the President in the first weeks of the administration and the “crazy story about the President wanting [Comey’s] loyalty.”  The anecdotes became the basis of a May 11, 2017 New York Times story and Richman admitted to the inspector general he was one of the Times’ sources. Richman said the reporter, who he had become friendly with, had called him two days prior to ask “what the hell is going on?” Comey said he had not instructed Richman to speak for that article on his behalf. Comey also didn’t know who the Times’ second source was for that story.

Prompted by Trump’s tweets claiming to have “tapes” of Comey conversations, Comey shared a memo of one of his Trump conversations with Richman on May 16. He did so by texting Richman a photo of the memo, and Richman described its contents to the reporter. The Times’ story about the memo indicated there was a second source, but no FBI official whom the inspector general interviewed knew who that source was.

The FBI Scramble To Retain the Memos That Comey Had Shared

When Comey revealed in congressional testimony he had shared the memos with a friend at Columbia Law School, there was a scramble at the FBI to get in touch with Richman, so that the bureau could get those memos back.

Richman cooperated with the FBI’s efforts to remove the memos from his computer and told the FBI that Comey had also shared some of the memos with his attorneys. Getting those memos off of Richman’s and the attorneys’ computer was a multistep process.

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