Courts & the Law, News

Rep. Justin Burr: Judicial redistricting, merit selection may not be either-or scenario

Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly, Montgomery) and N.C. AOC Director Marion Warren talk to lawmakers Tuesday about judicial redistricting. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

The House and Senate just might come to a deal when it comes to judicial redistricting and merit selection: pass them both and see what sticks.

Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly, Montgomery) said Tuesday after a House judicial redistricting committee meeting that a deal between the House and Senate in which Representatives pass judicial redistricting and Senators look at merit selection “could certainly be on the table.”

“To be determined,” he said. “I certainly don’t want to speak for the Senate. ”

The committee met for the first time Tuesday but did not discuss or go over the judicial and prosecutorial maps proposed by Burr in House Bill 717. Current maps were handed out to lawmakers and the public at the meeting but not Burr’s maps, which he has publicly stated would be tweaked but said Tuesday weren’t ready yet.

UNC School of Government Professor James Drennan gave a presentation to lawmakers about the history of North Carolina’s court system, modes of selection and judicial districts. N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts Director Marion Warren gave a presentation about the agency and its role in overseeing the operation of the court system.

Both Drennan and Warren also took questions from lawmakers.

Drennan told the group that the one person, one vote principle did not apply to judicial redistricting the same way as it did for legislative and congressional redistricting but that it applied to some extent. He didn’t answer any specific questions about whether Burr’s maps were the right way to go and instead deferred to lawmakers to delineate what the right process was.

Warren confirmed to lawmakers that the AOC was not involved in the drawing of Burr’s maps but did respond to some requests for information about judges and districts. He also noted before the presentation that state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin made a request for lawmakers to consider the appointment of judges.

He described the state’s judiciary as a system that has “a tremendous amount of tension,” but that leads to checks and balances. He also said that he didn’t know of any other state in which judges (trial and appellate), prosecutors, clerks and budgetary folks are all under the same roof trying to speak with one voice.

Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham) asked Warren about feedback about judicial redistricting he’d gotten from judges. He said some judges have said they will wait for the process to play out before commenting and others have been very upset about the maps.

“I think if you dig into that original 717 map, you’ll find that there are winners and there are losers, and some of the folks that consider themselves winners may share, they may say something that goes along the lines of this, ‘Judge Warren, I’m good with that map, I just can’t say anything about it,'” Warren said. “And then there’s folks that consider themselves losers, for a myriad of reasons; they call and say, ‘Why aren’t you doing something about it.’ That’s the two spectrums at the two ends of the conversations that I’m having with folks across the state in the judicial branch.”

Morey responded that she had gone to and spoken with at least 20 districts across the state and had not heard one district court judge be in favor of Burr’s redistricting plan.

Warren was asked by Rep. John Blust (R-Guilford) about how the AOC was handling the reduction in emergency judged and how workload would be affected under the proposed maps.

Warren said that Superior Courts have handled the reduction just fine but that the district courts were struggling.

“I’m having a great deal of difficulty with the district court,” he said, adding that there is a tremendous demand for emergency judges and he is having to manage it almost on a daily basis.

The meeting adjourned after Warren’s presentation. Burr said the committee would most likely meet late next week and then at least one more time before the maps are sent to the full House in October.

Despite some committee members talking about criteria Tuesday, Burr said he intends for his maps to serve as a baseline with tweaks to be introduced in a proposed committee substitute.

When asked about his stance on merit selection, Burr said his focus right now is on the maps.

Rep. Justin Burr

Rep. Justin Burr

“You know, there’s many different ways to do that, to look at merit selection, so that’s not my focus at this point,” he said.

He added that there is nothing in the merit selection proposal he has heard that conflicts with passing his judicial redistricting proposal.

“They both can be passed, put merit selection on the ballot next year, you can still pass these proposed maps,” he said. “It depends on whether or not the voters pass a constitutional amendment concerning merit selection. If they do, then that will go into effect. If they don’t, then these maps will at least our judicial districts will have been updated based on the maps in 717.”

News

Justin Burr files campaign finance report 16 days late

Rep. Justin Burr

Rep. Justin Burr

Rep. Justin Burr (R-Montgomery, Stanly) filed his mid-year semi annual campaign finance report 16 days late.

It was first reported last week that the five-term Republican legislator had yet to file the report, which was due July 31. He filed it Wednesday without any receipts.

Burr did not return an email asking why it took so long to file the report. He did not receive any contributions from the beginning of the year through the end of June, according to the report. His campaign spent $6,330.45 during the same time period.

Expenses included $500 per month for rent for an apartment, a $1,024.90 hotel expense in Arlington, Va. for President Donald Trump’s inauguration and two different photography expenses totaling $845.

Burr’s campaign donated $70 to the North Carolina Republican Party and $100 to the North Carolina Committee to Elect Republican Women.

Other expenses include communication costs, district phone bills and other random “operating expenses.”

At the end of the reporting period, Burr’s campaign reported $1,315.24 in “cash on hand.” You can read the report here.

The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement can fine Burr up to $50 per day for each day his report was not filed, but the fine cannot exceed $500. Burr was already assessed a fine earlier this year for being late filing a report.

His fourth quarter 2016 campaign finance report was due Jan. 11 and not filed until Jan. 17. He was assessed a $150 penalty which the Board waived “for good cause.”

Commentary

Columnist blasts Justin Burr’s partisan judicial redistricting plan

In case you missed it yesterday, veteran columnist Doug Clark of the Greensboro News & Record had an excellent essay this week on the ongoing efforts of North Carolina Republican lawmakers (led by Rep. Justin Burr) to remake the state’s judiciary into partisan and less representative branch of government. Here’s Clark in “Next target for GOP gerrymandering is District Court”:

“Partisan gerrymandering soon could find its way into a new area of public life: District Court.

If it happens, it will mark another step by our legislature to exert more control over the other supposedly co-equal branches of state government.

House Bill 717 was introduced by Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly) in April but not acted on by the time the legislature adjourned in June. However, it’s likely to come up for consideration in a special session later this year.

It redraws Superior and District Court districts all across the state to create political advantages for Republicans.”

After dissecting what Burr’s plan would mean for Guilford County (basically, it would assure the election of lots more Republican judges), and pointing out the legislature has already taken away Governor Cooper’s power to fill court vacancies and bestowed the power upon itself, Clark concludes this way:

“I prefer countywide elections of District Court judges for a nonpartisan reason. If you have business in District Court, every judge you see is someone you had a chance to vote for or against. That will no longer be true if Burr’s plan is enacted. You’ll only get to vote for half the judges, even though all of them will sit in Guilford County courtrooms. This bill cuts your voting power in half. But its purpose is partisan.

That doesn’t make sense in terms of District Court business — drunken driving, juvenile matters and so on. However, the House passed another bill this year that makes it important for Republicans to win more District Court seats….

Burr, along with several Guilford legislators, met with local judges last week. While their discussion was cordial, I’m told, the judges weren’t sold on these changes — which include redistricting for Superior Court, too.

Burr did not respond to my phone call and email to his office seeking comment. Rep. John Faircloth, a High Point Republican who arranged Friday’s meeting, defended the goal of seating more Republican judges who would better represent the views of Republican voters. The courts lean too heavily in favor of Democrats now, he said.

Faircloth added that the current proposal is ‘a long way from being finished.’

I think we can see where it’s going. The legislature wants to create partisan courts, fix elections to favor GOP candidates and employ politicized judges to serve its purposes. Can someone please rule this scheme out of order?

Lawmakers are, of course, in town this week (and will be in coming weeks) for the supposed purpose of “fixing” their unconstitutionally gerrymandered legislative districts. Ironically, in keeping with the shameless persistence they bring to so many of their nefarious efforts, it looks quite possible that they’ll seize the opportunity presented by these sessions to rig some other elections while they’re here.

Courts & the Law, News

Email: Rep. Burr extends offer to meet with judges about surprise judicial redistricting maps

Rep. Justin Burr

Rep. Justin Burr

Rep. Justin Burr (R-Montgomery, Stanly) has offered to meet with judicial leaders across the state about his redistricting bill, according to email obtained by NC Policy Watch that was sent to Marion Warren, Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC).

Burr surprised the legal community with House Bill 717, a redraw of the superior court, district court and prosecutorial districts, during the last week of the regular 2017 legislative session. The bill was put on hold until lawmakers return in either August or September.

Democrats opposed the measure and questioned whether it included any sort of political or racial gerrymandering given that the drawing of the maps was done in secret. Burr said he did not consult with the AOC or groups like the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys before the proposed maps were drawn.

Now, Burr appears to have had a change of heart about getting input from the legal community.

“Over the next month, he has offered to make himself available to meet with local judicial leaders in the courthouses and counties directly impacted by HB 717,” said Blair Borsuk, Burr’s research assistant, in the email from Wednesday afternoon. “He would like make himself available as a courtesy in order to discuss the bill, the current structure, existing problems, gather input & proposals, and answer questions.”

Burr and Borsuk have already met with judicial delegations from New Hanover/Pender and Pitt counties and have scheduled meetings at the request of delegations in Mecklenburg and Guilford County, the email states.

“Rep. Burr and I will make arrangements to travel and meet at a time most convenient for local judges,” Borsuck wrote.

Burr has not responded to an open records request and follow-up email regarding the judicial redistricting bill. He spoke recently to WRAL and said he didn’t tell judges about the maps because they would have fought him.

With a map in hand, the debate is about tweaking the map, not about blocking change outright, he told WRAL.

“I’ve seen this play before,” said Burr, who has pushed, sometimes successfully, for smaller judicial redraws in the past. “It’s no longer, ‘How do we kill this?'”

Commentary

Justice Center: Time for Burr, Tillis to move beyond repeal discussion, make ACA work

The North Carolina Justice Center issued the following response to this morning’s Senate healthcare vote in which the latest Affordable Care Act repeal proposal was defeated:

Relief for North Carolinians as ACA repeal effort fails
General Assembly should seize opportunity to expand access to coverage for those in the Medicaid coverage gap

Early this morning, the U.S. Senate defeated a last-minute bill designed to repeal the Affordable Care Act and make other harmful cuts to health care. Three Republican Senators—Sen. Susan Collins (ME), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Sen. John McCain—courageously broke from the otherwise party-line vote and defeated this dangerous bill. This is a major victory for consumers throughout North Carolina who can breathe a sigh of relief knowing now that their access to affordable, quality coverage is secure for now.

State lawmakers should now seize the opportunity to expand access to coverage for the hundreds of thousands of uninsured North Carolinians living the coverage gap. Not only would this make our state’s workforce healthier and more productive, it would help us fight the opioid crisis, expanding access to substance use disorder treatment and behavioral health services for those in need.

While Senators Burr and Tillis both voted for repeal bills that would have left between 15 and 32 million Americans uninsured, it is now time for them to move beyond the repeal conversation and work across the aisle to stabilize insurance markets, make small fixes to the ACA, and improve our health care system.

Following the vote, President Trump stated that he will “let Obamacare implode.” However, both data and statements from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina show that the ACA’s exchange markets are stabilizing, so it will take intentional sabotage efforts by the Trump administration to make this prediction a reality. As we’ve seen, the administration has already engaged in efforts to undermine the ACA and destabilize insurance markets. Hopefully with the latest change in legislative activity, the Trump administration will guarantee payments to insurers for cost-sharing reduction subsidies; we already know that the uncertainty of the status quo, in which Trump and Congress are holding those payments hostage, will cause Blue Cross premiums for North Carolinians next year to rise by 14 percentage points. The administration must also enforce the individual mandate and fully invest in outreach, education, and enrollment assistance to ensure that Americans are taking advantage of the benefits of affordable health insurance coverage.