The following was posted this morning on “Taking Note” the editorial page blog at the New York Times:
“The Decline of North Carolina, Continued
An editorial last week lamented North Carolina’s abandonment of progressive policies in the seven months since Republicans took control of both the executive and legislative branches in the Tar Heel State for the first time since reconstruction.
The piece cited backward slides in areas such as public education, tax fairness, voting, abortion rights and the mean-spirited slashing of federal unemployment benefits for roughly 70,000 residents.
To that depressing list, I would add one more item: the destruction of North Carolina’s public financing system for judicial elections.
Enacted in 2002, the program set a laudable national example by allowing candidates for the bench to reduce their reliance on the special interest campaign money that now dominates state races for important judicial posts across the country — creating conflicts of interest that a new study from the American Constitution Society links to friendly rulings for business interests by both Republican and Democratic judges.
‘In 2002, the last year without public financing, 73 percent of campaign funds for judicial candidates came from attorneys and special interest groups,’ noted Alicia Bannon of the Brennan Center for Justice in a recent op-ed piece for the Raleigh News and Observer. ‘After public financing was introduced in 2004, that number dropped to 14 percent. Last year, every single candidate for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals opted to receive public financing.’
The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizen United ruling and subsequent campaign-finance decisions diminished the program’s effectiveness. Now, instead of making changes to strengthen it, North Carolina is on the verge of eliminating it. The state legislature is finalizing a budget that eliminates financial support for the program, making it a hollow shell.
There’s also a chance the legislature will compound the damage to the judiciary. A bill expected to be introduced this week would turn the state’s non-partisan judicial elections into partisan elections with heightened involvement of the political parties. Just what North Carolina needs.”