One of the University of North Carolina’s greatest benefactors on Monday sued the state and the UNC Board of Governors for using “an unnecessary and illegal quota system” to ensure that minorities and women received spots on the UNC Board of Governors.
Walter R. Davis, a UNC-Chapel Hill trustee whom the main library at UNC-Chapel Hill is named after, filed suit along with four other plaintiffs, including former Libertarian Party gubernatorial candidate Barbara Howe and Winston-Salem Alderman Vernon Robinson.
The plaintiffs claim that the state and the Board of Governors are violating equal protection provisions of both the state and federal constitutions because some appointments to the board are based on political affiliation, race, and sex.
N.C. General Statute 116 -3 mandates that the UNC Board of Governors, which sets policy for the 16-campus UNC system, be composed of 32 persons. The terms are for four years with 16 members elected by the General Assembly every two years. In each of those elections, the law stipulates that two board members be of the “largest political minority of the General Assembly,” two be of “a minority race,” and two be “women.”
“I have dedicated part of my life to providing time, money, and effort to the UNC system, and I am deeply committed to make sure that our education system runs in a fair and constitutional manner,” Davis said in a statement provided to Carolina Journal, the magazine of the John Locke Foundation, by his attorneys.
“When I found out that the Board of Governors had an unnecessary and illegal quota system for electing its members, I first attempted to resolve this matter without filing a lawsuit. After exhausting all attempts to resolve this matter prior to filing this lawsuit, I realize there is no other recourse but asking the courts to correct the unconstitutional status of the Board of Governors.”
Barbara Howe told Carolina Journal during an interview on Monday that she was shocked to find out that the state had quotas for the Board of Governors.
“The day or two before I found out about this lawsuit, I happened to be sitting in on a Senate session where they were approving the Board of Governors members,” Howe said. “I thought it was horrifying that North Carolina legislators codify discrimination into the law. To me, you get the best person for the job, period.”
Davis said that “no other law of the State of North Carolina imposes a mandatory quota system as to membership on any other state board, public governing body, or governmental committee based on race, gender, or political affiliation.”
Davis also maintains that another state law appropriately addresses the issue of diversity of sex and race without mandating quotas. General Statute 116 -7 (a) states, “In electing members, the objective shall be to obtain the services of the best qualified citizens of the State, taking into consideration the need for representation on the Board by the different races, sexes and political parties.”
For relief Davis and the other plaintiffs are seeking a judgement that would prohibit the further use of race, gender, or political affiliation in the selection of board members.
Davis is a current member of the Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has previously served as a member of the Board of Governors. A native of Elizabeth City, he became a millionaire after moving to Texas and making a fortune in the oil business. He has residences in North Carolina and Texas.
Davis is widely regarded as a major behind-the-scene mover and shaker in N.C. politics and is a major financial contributor to political campaigns. He contributed $250,000 in soft money to the Democratic Party last year. The News & Observer of Raleigh on Sunday referred to him as a “father figure and mentor” to State Senate leader Marc Basnight, whom The N&O called the most powerful politician in the state.
Representing Davis are Eugene Boyce, R. Daniel Boyce, and Philip R. Isley. Eugene Boyce has been successful in previous lawsuits against the state. He was the lead attorney in the intangibles tax lawsuit as well as the lawsuit by retired government employees, which recouped hundreds of millions of dollars in illegally collected taxes. R. Daniel Boyce was the Republican candidate for attorney general in 2000. He lost to Democrat Roy Cooper, who likely will defend the plaintiffs in this action.
Board of Governors officials could not be reached by press time.