This fundraiser invitation should disqualify Justice Phil Berger, Jr. from numerous Supreme Court cases

Be sure to check out this morning’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer about the extraordinarily blatant (if not at all surprising) conflict of interest that is evidenced by the political fundraiser invitation that appears to the left.

As the editorial notes, Supreme Court Justice Phil Berger, Jr. — the son of longtime state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, Sr. — has allowed his name to be used on a fundraiser for Republican state Representative Jimmy Dixon. Berger, Jr. is even listed as a “special guest” alongside House Speaker Tim Moore (one of the defendants in a case Berger, Jr. has been asked to rule on) and Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson (a far right politician who has gained international attention for uttering hateful and anti-Semitic slurs).

You can read more about the need for Berger, Jr. and his colleague, Justice Tamara Barringer, to recuse themselves from an important case in which Berger’s father and Speaker Moore are the named defendants here and here.

This is from the editorial:

Apparently Justice Berger’s response to concerns about whether he can be impartial is to thumb his nose at the worriers. He’ll do what he pleases, which is help raise funds for the legislative leadership whose actions have repeatedly been challenged in the courts….

With the ending of public financing for judicial elections, judicial candidates must raise funds for themselves and they run under partisan labels. But they still have a special responsibility to be – and to appear to be – impartial. That special responsibility means not being a “special guest” at a lawmaker’s campaign fundraiser.

Clearly there is a need for a better way to respond to justices who flaunt their partiality. The court is right to consider whether it has the authority and can construct a method to disqualify Justice Berger in this case.

The bottom line: The state Supreme Court renders all sorts of important decisions that deal with the acts of state lawmakers and while it’s true that North Carolina has — unfortunately — made its judicial elections partisan, it simply must remain unacceptable for judges to become directly involved in supporting the election of officials whose actions they will inevitably be called upon to sit in judgement. Justice Berger’s action in this matter is unethical and ought to be the subject of an investigation and potential sanction.

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