Courts & the Law, News

Voters for Clean Elections Director details attacks on judicial independence

A spotlight has been on the politicization of the courts this legislative session, but it’s not the first time lawmakers have tried to manipulate the judiciary for what seems like partisan gain.

In an article titled “History of Attacks on Judicial Independence,” North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections Director Melissa Price Kromm writes that the state’s war on judicial independence began with the repeal of public financing for judicial races.

“After 10 years of success, with 65 percent of North Carolinians supporting it and 80 percent of judicial candidates participating, public financing for judicial races was repealed in 2013, allowing big money more influence over our fair and impartial courts,” the article states.

Not long after that, the General Assembly passed a law requiring that a panel of three Superior Court judges, instead of one judge, must rule on the validity of laws it passes.

“This stopped plaintiffs from judge-shopping, but some argued this new three-judge panel appointed by the Chief Justice, made up of judges from across the state, was created because the legislature hoped for different outcomes when its laws were challenged,” Kromm wrote.

From there, Kromm goes on to detail lawmakers’ attempt at retention elections and subsequently, when that failed, a court-packing rumor after Democrat Mike Morgan’s win over incumbent Bob Edmunds in the 2016 Supreme Court election.

“After a massive outcry, the [court-packing] plan disappeared. One week later, the public learned from a press release that Governor Pat McCrory had ‘also successfully worked to deter any efforts to expand the composition of our Supreme Court,'” the article states. “After the 2016 election, with a flip to Democratic majority of the state Supreme Court and the governorship, the Republican-controlled General Assembly began attempting to institute a number of laws bringing politics-infused changes to the judicial branch.”

That brings us to the current state of things: partisan judicial elections, a reduction in the number of judges on the state Court of Appeals and attempts to take away judicial appointment power from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

And finally, Kromm writes about the ongoing judicial redistricting efforts. The House judicial redistricting committee met for the first time yesterday but has not yet discussed proposed maps from Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly, Montgomery).

“These were drawn in secret, behind closed doors and without public input,” she wrote. “Many argue these districts were gerrymandered to create favorable elections for Republican judges. It has been roughly 50 years since the last full redraw, with minor adjustments done over time.”

You can read the full article here.

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