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Innocence and Justice Director Mark Rabil weighs in on potential Racial Justice Act repeal

Given Republican lawmakers’ push to resume executions in North Carolina, death-row inmates may soon face the reality that arguments of racial prejudice will no longer spare them the ultimate punishment, or will they?

A bill sailing through the General Assembly aims to annul claims filed under a landmark 2009 law known as the Racial Justice Act, a politically partisan measure that essentially put a halt to executions.

But scholars say passage would lead to even longer delays by opening the door for defendants to challenge the constitutionality of eliminating a right retroactively.

“Can the legislature legally retroactively repeal a law that people have already filed claims under? Generally speaking, I think the answer is going to be no, but that will be up to state and federal courts,” said Mark Rabil, director of Wake Forest University’s Innocence and Justice Clinic and a former capital defender. “They are basically ensuring several more years of litigation.”

“They’re not only naive,” he added, referring to legislators, but they are “being economically and budgetarily unwise because now the state is going to have to spend more resources defending the legislative repeal.”

Sen. Thom Goolsby, the Wilmington Republican leading the charge for repeal, expressed his view that the act is a back door attempt to end the death penalty and an insult to prosecutors and juries.

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