North Carolina’s is not the only legislature targeting the court system for political gain, but it is an outlier, and folks across the nation are following closely what happens, according to Alicia Bannon with the Brennan Center for Justice.
A new report that Bannon co-authored found that at least 41 bills in 15 states have targeted state courts, including efforts to control the ways by which judges reach the bench, to unseat judges currently on courts and generally to restrict courts’ jurisdiction and power.
She spoke briefly WFAE in Charlotte earlier this week about how North Carolina is leading the national trend.
“In part because of the sheer number of bills that have been considered in the legislature this session and including the number that have actually passed, North Carolina has really been an outlier in the extent to which the legislature has been targeting the courts in a number of different dimensions,” she said in the interview. “I also think the political context in North Carolina is really notable.”
She said it wasn’t until the November election, when Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper was elected and state Supreme Court Justice Mike Morgan’s election turned the high court back to Democratic control, that the legislature started making a partisan push for control of the courts.
Bannon also spoke about House Bill 100, which made Superior and District Court judicial elections partisan again. On one hand, she said, the “R” or “D” on the ballot could give voters more information, but on the other, there’s a real concern about judges being too closely linked to political parties.
She added that the measure also happened in an environment where the move was plainly motivated by partisan interest.
“What I think is so concerning is that it’s very important that judges have this space to hear cases and decide those cases based on their understanding of the law, and that the public should be confident that that’s what they’re doing,” Bannon said.
When asked whether the state was being used as a test for other areas to try similar measures, she said she thinks there are a lot of people watching North Carolina very closely.
“I do think that North Carolina is very much now a state where there’s a lot that’s being tried out, there are a lot of boundaries that are being tested, and I think how the state responds to that is going to be a very telling lesson for people that may be looking to do similar things in other states as well,” she said.