N Carolina elections board back in court in power struggle

Court Watch

The repeatedly altered composition of North Carolina's elections board returned to court Thursday as a proxy for the lengthy power struggle between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-dominated legislature.

A panel of three trial judges listened for over three hours but didn't immediately rule on the request by Cooper's lawyers to throw out a third iteration of a combined elections and ethics board. Structures of two earlier versions created by GOP lawmakers previously have been declared unconstitutional.

GOP lawmakers and Cooper have been embroiled in litigation and political disputes since Cooper was elected governor in 2016. Lawmakers have passed several bills that eroded Cooper's powers. The board is important because its members can approve early-voting sites that could affect election turnout. They can also assess campaign finance penalties and determine ethics law violations.

Republicans argue their latest attempt — the current nine-member board chosen by Cooper, with four Democrats, four Republicans and a ninth who can't be a member of either party — passes constitutional muster.

But Jim Phillips, a Cooper lawyer, told the judges the new board structure suffers the same flaws as the other versions because it still usurps the governor's constitutional duty to ensure state election laws are faithfully executed. While Cooper appoints the entire board, Phillips said, he only has strong influence over the four Democratic choices, picked from a list provided by the state Democratic Party.

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USCIS Adjusting Premium Processing Fee

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced today it is adjusting the premium processing fee for Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker and Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers beginning on Oct. 1, 2018 to more effectively adjudicate petitions and maintain effective service to petitioners.

The premium processing fee will increase to $1,410, a 14.92 percent increase (after rounding) from the current fee of $1,225. This increase, which is done in accordance with the Immigration and Nationality Act, represents the percentage change in inflation since the fee was last increased in 2010 based on the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers.

“Because premium processing fees have not been adjusted since 2010, our ability to improve the adjudications and service processes for all petitioners has been hindered as we’ve experienced significantly higher demand for immigration benefits. Ultimately, adjusting the premium processing fee will allow us to continue making necessary investments in staff and technology to administer various immigration benefit requests more effectively and efficiently,” said Chief Financial Officer Joseph Moore. “USCIS will continue adjudicating all petitions on a case-by-case basis to determine if they meet all standards required under applicable law, policies, and regulations.”

Premium processing is an optional service that is currently authorized for certain petitioners filing Forms I-129 or I-140. The system allows petitioners to request 15-day processing of certain employment-based immigration benefit requests if they pay an extra fee. The premium processing fee is paid in addition to the base filing fee and any other applicable fees, which cannot be waived.