Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend

In case you missed it yesterday, the Greensboro News & Record had another fine editorial that takes the General Assembly to task yet again for its latest unwarranted power grab in the state courts system. As NC Policy Watch reporter Melissa Boughton reported last week, state lawmakers have advanced an array of bills in recent weeks that seek to remake the courts for partisan purposes and without any meaningful input from legal experts or court officials themselves.

As the N&R editorial notes, Gov. Cooper should get out his veto pen:

“The legislature swatted the other two branches of state government at once last week — quite a feat, even for this overly aggressive body.

House Bill 239 reduces the N.C. Court of Appeals from 15 judges to 12 through attrition. The next three who leave the bench won’t be replaced.

The measure was approved with the support of all Republicans in the House and Senate over opposition from Democrats.It denies Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper the chance to fill vacancies, starting next month when Republican Judge Doug McCullough reaches the mandatory retirement age of 72.

Two more Republicans, Robert N. Hunter Jr. and Ann Marie Calabria, would be next to retire, both in 2019.

Cooper could be expected to replace all three with Democrats if he had the opportunity.

Partisan politics aside, this move will have a major impact on the state’s appellate courts — and it was made without consultation with judicial officials. That creates the strong suspicion that the changes were not made with partisan politics aside.”

And here’s the conclusion:

“HB 239 also would route more appeals from the District and Superior Courts around the COA and directly to the Supreme Court. The high court’s workload probably isn’t excessive now, but too many additional cases could produce a backlog. What many Democrats fear is that Republican legislators want to create an emergency on the Supreme Court, which Republicans could use to justify enlarging it. Currently configured with seven justices, the Supreme Court is authorized by the state constitution to have as many as nine.

It so happens that the Supreme Court has a 4-3 Democratic majority. Republican legislators tried to add two Republican justices last year, but then-Gov. Pat McCrory said he stopped the move. Lawmakers could try again, giving themselves the authority to make the additional appointments for the purpose of building a 5-4 GOP majority.

All this richly justifies Cooper’s expected veto of HB 239. Changes to the court of this magnitude should be undertaken only after careful study with participation by judicial branch officials and representatives of the state’s legal community. This has the appearance of partisan politics and nothing else.

The courts are meant to be a co-equal and independent branch of state government. Their job is to protect the rights of the people by providing a check on the power of the executive and legislative branches.

The legislature is claiming too much power for itself, and it shouldn’t get away with swatting the other two branches in one bold stroke.”

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