The North Carolina General Assembly is currently debating a series of Republican-sponsored laws designed to strip power from the newly progressive governor and state Supreme Court. If passed, these measures would have far-reaching effects on the state, significantly curtailing judicial independence, loosening environmental standards, diminishing the quality of public education, and preserving unlawful voter suppression laws. However, the public was not able to witness the debate over this de facto legislative coup on Thursday afternoon after the Assembly decided to close the House and Senate galleries and arrest a group of protesters, as well as a reporter.
As the News & Observer’s Colin Campbell reports, protesters who opposed the Republicans’ power grab cheered and jeered from the gallery. They were eventually kicked out, though some initially refused to leave. About 25 protesters were arrested and charged with trespassing, then brought down to the basement to be processed. Law enforcement expelled the media from the basement and refused to let them document the processing of arrestees in a public hallway. The Assembly also ejected everyone from the legislative galleries—including silent members of the public and the press—while debate over the bills continued.
Law enforcement officers appear to have arrested not only protesters but also at least one journalist. North Carolina Policy Watch reports that law enforcement arrested and detained Joe Killian, a correspondent covering the events.
With both legislative chambers cleared, the Assembly will continue debating the new proposals into the evening. The public has no way to watch the debate. A bill preventing Democrats from taking control of state and county election boards—as they were slated to do under current law—has already passed the Senate. Republicans hold a supermajority in both chambers due to race-based gerrymandering that was recently ruled unconstitutional.
*Update, Dec. 15, 2016, 6:30 p.m.: Audio broadcast from the House and Senate floors has been restored. You can listen here.
*Update, Dec. 15, 2016, 7:00 p.m.: Video broadcast has now been restored as well. You can watch here.