Courts & the Law, News

Berger’s chief of staff: Senate committee appointments coming to discuss best way to pick judges

Jim Blaine, chief of staff to Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, and Rep. Joe John (D-Wake) discussed judicial selection on Capital Tonight.

The Senate President Pro Tem‘s chief of staff and a former appellate judge turned House Representative faced off Thursday on Spectrum News‘ Capital Tonight about North Carolina’s judiciary.

Jim Blaine has, on behalf of Phil Berger, been presenting the idea of a “merit selection” plan to various groups and stakeholders across the state while Rep. Joe John (D-Wake) has been opposing his chamber’s plan to redraw all judicial and prosecutorial districts in the state.

It’s no secret that legislators have long been trying to politicize the judiciary but the most recent attempt came just two days before the Capital Tonight segment. Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Bladen) introduced a constitutional amendment to shorten all judgeships to two years and force all 403 current sitting judges to run for reelection in 2018.

John didn’t waste any time bringing up that amendment, noting that it was a far cry from Blaine’s statements about wanting to have a discussion on judicial selection.

“Instead of throwing out a ludicrous bill which cuts the terms of all 403 judges in the state — it would create chaos in the election year 2018 — why not appoint the commission, bring in judges, former judges, legislators, folks affected and have a discussion?” John asked. “Not through out a ridiculous bill and then say, ‘oh we want to have a discussion.'”

Blaine said on the news segment that Berger was expected to make appointments in the coming days to a select committee to review judicial selection and that he’d contacted Minority Leader Dan Blue looking for Democrats willing to serve.

Blue’s office confirmed Friday that Berger did contact them.

“I think his hope is that we can arrive at a consensus about a better way to pick judges in North Carolina,” Blaine said.

He did not make known his position on the Constitutional amendment, but said simply that all options are on the table regarding judicial selection. He did think Rabon’s proposal was a serious one, not only to be used as a bargaining tool to warrant support for “merit selection.”

“If you’re going to have elections and you’re going to elect your judges, let the people vote on them regularly just like they do legislators, city councilmen, any other office,” Blaine said.

John responded that the fundamental flaw in his argument is that folks are viewing the judiciary as a partisan branch of government, when in fact it was set up to be “wholly independent.”

Blaine said he did not believe that politics could be taken out of the judicial selection process. He also said the legislature has been discussing a “merit selection” process that includes input from various places — he said he hasn’t seen a plan put forth that only involves lawmakers picking judges.

He also said during the segment that there has been a “groundswell” at the legislature “to do something as it relates to the judiciary” for about four or five years.

You can watch the news segment here with a Spectrum News login.

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