Courts & the Law, News

New York Times takes on partisan state court attacks

The New York Times’ Editorial Board published a piece Sunday taking lawmakers to task in states where partisan attacks on state courts are being leveraged.

The opinion article cited specific examples Wisconsin, Kansas, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, Republican legislators in North Carolina, who recently gerrymandered themselves into a veto-proof majority, have taken repeated aim at the state courts. On party-line votes, they reduced the size of the state’s midlevel appeals court, preventing Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat elected in 2016, from filling seats. They required judicial candidates running at all levels to identify themselves by partisan affiliation. They tried, and failed, to expand the state’s Supreme Court right before Mr. Cooper took office, in the hope of slipping a few extra appointments into the hands of the departing Republican governor, Pat McCrory. In a special session next month, they will attempt to gerrymander trial-court districts in favor of Republicans and to cut judicial terms from eight years to two. As one lawmaker justified it, “If you’re going to act like a legislator, perhaps you should run like one.”

The Editorial Board describes such bills as “terrible for the judiciary and harmful to democracy.” They also noted that even if bills aren’t passed, the message and publicity generated signal real consequences — especially for judges issuing what’s perceived as controversial or unpopular rulings.

The article also examines judicial elections and the public perception of the judiciary.

But no matter how judges get on the bench, the important thing is to keep them as insulated as possible from outside political pressures. Instead, many lawmakers in recent years have been doing the opposite, treating judges like political pawns who are, or should be, more beholden to a partisan platform or public pressure than to the law. For those lawmakers to then complain about judges acting like legislators is rich.

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