Commentary, Defending Democracy

Huffington Post, editorials shine light on NC GOP courts putsch

As Policy Watch reporter Melissa Boughton has been reporting at great length in recent weeks and months, the effort of North Carolina Republicans to raze and remake the state judiciary continues apace. Happily, the issue is now gathering more and more attention from national reporters who recognize North Carolina’s ongoing role as a testing ground for Trumpism. Monday, Huffington Post voting rights reporter Sam Levine shined a light on our troubled state of affairs. Here are some excerpts from “North Carolina GOP Moves Forward With Attempt To Take Control Of State Courts”:

North Carolina Republicans, who have been reprimanded by federal courts for targeting minorities with voter ID restrictions and gerrymandering, passed legislation last week to eliminate primary elections for state judges next year in what critics say is a blatant and brazen attempt to take control of the state’s courts….

The Republican plan has two prongs. Lawmakers are considering new maps for state court districts with a plan that would require many African-American and Democratic judges to run against each other. While that effort has yet to pass the legislature, lawmakers last week passed the separate bill that would, among other things, get rid of primary elections for state judges….

“It’s a huge development and it’s part of an ongoing diabolical plan that the Republican leadership have been promoting and implementing to take over one branch after another,” said Bob Hall, the executive director of Democracy North Carolina, a watchdog group.

The plan comes at a time when Republicans have faced unequivocal rebukes from federal courts over limiting voting rights through both gerrymandering and voter ID laws….

Getting rid of the primaries, Hall said, would open up the floodgates for candidates for judicial elections and deprive voters of the opportunity to vet them.

“You’re opening up a free-for-all election in November where you could have four or five Democrats, four or five Republicans and a libertarian and an independent all on the ballot. The winner could get 20 percent of the vote and become the next judge, even the next state supreme court judge,” he said.”

Meanwhile, editorials in the Wilmington Star News and Greensboro News & Record rightfully blast the scheme. The former puts it this way:

North Carolina Republicans gerrymandered their way into a hammer-lock on the state legislature, which they will control indefinitely, barring action from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now, they’re going after the state’s courts….

This has nothing to do with principles, conservative or liberal. This is raw back-room politics, Tammany Party style.

Republicans used to whine about the bad old days when no lawyer in the GOP had a hope of a state judgeship, no matter how able they were. That was wrong back then. And this GOP power grab is wrong now.

It’s one more reason why the gang in the Legislative Building needs to be broken up — and why our local legislators need to be grilled on why they play along with these shenanigans.

And here’s the N&R:Some observers think the real reason for this change is to create additional time for legislative leaders to propose a system for appointing judges rather than electing them. [Governor] Cooper thinks so.

“This legislation abolishes a scheduled election and takes away the right of the people to vote for the judges of their choice,” he said Monday. “It is the first step toward a constitutional amendment that will rig the system so that the legislature picks everybody’s judges in every district instead of letting the people vote for the judges they want.”

The governor has gotten ahead of himself, because approving a constitutional amendment to eliminate judicial elections requires a statewide referendum. But he may have correctly identified the legislature’s ultimate objective….

Cooper’s veto, however, stalls Republican plans. The veto should stand, because a Supreme Court seat shouldn’t be won with just 23 percent of the vote.

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