Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Republicans denounce partisan judicial elections in merit selection discussion

Buddy Wester

The Federalist Society’s Triangle Lawyers Chapter hosted a discussion Thursday on merit selection, but panelists instead focused on the pros and cons of partisan judicial elections.

Buddy Wester, a business attorney from Charlotte, and Bob Orr, a former state Supreme Court justice — both of whom are registered Republicans — denounced partisan labels for judges, which were recently reinstated by GOP lawmakers.

“Of the vast majority of the voters considering judicial candidates, affiliation is the only sure thing the voter can know on that candidate and expresses, indeed, it assures, this unequivocal: this candidate will be allegiant to the platform and ideology of his or her party when he or she hears evidence and makes rulings in cases,” Wester said. “Never mind what the cases concern and that 90 percent plus of them have no political cast whatsoever to them.”

He added that the purpose of partisan labels is to lock all the judicial candidates “arm-in-arm” with candidates for other offices.

Orr said he considered himself an expert in statewide partisan judicial elections after running in five of them.

“In reality, in a state that now has 10 million residents with, I think, around 5.5 million registered voters, a partisan judicial race is a $1,400 lottery ticket for an eight-year term on one of our state’s two highest courts,” he said. “As you know, all you need is a law license and the filing fee and you can run for judicial office for the Court of Appeals or the state Supreme Court.”

He described challenges, including the tension partisan races creates within a court when colleagues of the opposite parties are running for office and ask each other for support.

Voters, he said, and often many lawyers, are clueless or poorly informed about how good a job any particular justice or judge is doing anyone running against them in a race.

“I don’t think partisan elections are any more transparent, and in some respects, work against it than reform systems,” he said.

The third panelist, Chris Bonneau, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh, tried to make a case for partisan elections, noting they weren’t “as bad as people say.”

“There’s no perfect way to select judges,” he said.

He said that partisan labels give voters more information about the candidates they vote for and increases transparency.

He added that North Carolina’s reputation for passing bills regarding judicial selection may be harming the public perception of the courts.

“Every year in states across the country, bills are introduced to change how judges are selected,” Bonneau said. “North Carolina is unique in that you guys actually pass them, and you pass them all the time. … If you’re concerned about the legitimacy of the courts, pick something and stick to it for awhile, and don’t keep changing it every time there’s a new political party in power, because that will do more to revoke the legitimacy of the courts than anything else you do.”

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin moderated the panel discussion. He endorsed merit selection last year before it was made known lawmakers were considering such a plan.

“My hope, as a part of this discussion today, is to help increase public interest in and understanding of the different methods of judicial selection,” he said. “I have personally been appointed to judicial office twice and I have run for judicial office four times — two partisan races and two non partisan races.”

Wester said toward the end of the meeting that he believed North Carolina could become the beacon for the best judicial selection model in the country if done right.

NC Budget and Tax Center

How can North Carolina make sure students are eating breakfast?

The benefits of school breakfast participation are clear — reduced hunger, improved academic achievement and test scores, elevated health and nutrition, and reduced absenteeism, tardiness, and behavior referrals. In 2016-2017, more children participated in the school breakfast program nationally than ever before, according to the Food Research Action Center’s (FRAC) School Breakfast Scorecard. This report measures the reach of the School Breakfast Program in the 2016–2017 school year — nationally and in each state — based on a variety of metrics, and examines the impact of select trends and policies on program participation. While participation from year to year has continued to increase nationally, the rate of growth has slowed.

We want to ensure a thriving North Carolina by providing everyone with the resources to have a sufficient childhood development. North Carolina is the 10th hungriest state in the nation, meaning many families face high levels of food insecurity. These families do not have access to the nutritious foods necessary to safeguard their children are healthy. For children, poor nutrition is associated with anxiety, diet-related diseases, learning difficulties, and health problems, that can affect them throughout their K-12 education journey and as they continue to grow into adulthood. The school breakfast program plays a critical role in filling voids for low-income families. Here are some ways NC schools can continue to increase breakfast participation: Read more

Commentary

The gun madness continues as American school shootings reach truly obscene levels

Ho hum. Another day, another 17 American children gunned down in what ought to be one of the safest havens in society by a disturbed man-child with a mass killing machine.

As the New York Times explains this morning, the numbers have become certifiably obscene:

“When a gunman killed 20 first graders and six adults with an assault rifle at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, it rattled Newtown, Conn., and reverberated across the world. Since then, there have been at least 273 school shootings nationwide. In those incidents, 439 people were shot, 121 of whom were killed….

The shootings have taken place at sporting events and in parking lots, cafeterias, hallways and classrooms.

A shooting took place Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., about an hour northwest of Miami. As of Wednesday night, 17 people had been killed and the number of people injured was unknown.

Twelve of the 272 shootings shown below can be classified as mass shootings, events in which four or more people are shot.

On average, there have been seven school shootings each month, including episodes that were not mass shootings.”

A few years back, editors of the online humor website known as The Onion featured a darkly funny but painfully on-the-mark headline about gun violence that read as follows: “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” Sadly and amazingly, this sentence continues to capture the essence of the utterly mad gun violence crisis that plagues America: the only nation in which mass killing machines are afforded the same societal protection as speech, religious belief and the right to due process of law.

News

NC congressional delegation denounces Florida school shooting; Rep. Price demands vote on gun violence bills

Wednesday’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida claimed at least 17 lives. Authorities say the 19-year-old suspect had been expelled from the school last year.

The following reaction is from North Carolina’s Congressional delegation:

Courts & the Law, Education, Environment, News

Gov. Roy Cooper won’t veto class size, Board of Elections, pipeline omnibus

Gov. Roy Cooper addressed the class size bill Wednesday
at the Executive Mansion (Photo taken by Billy Ball).

Gov. Roy Cooper says he won’t veto an omnibus bill that eases North Carolina’s class size crisis, despite several parts of the bill that he calls “political attacks and power grabs.”

“Our kids in schools are too important,” said Cooper. “But we do need to talk about the bad parts of the bill.”

The legislation, which he characterized as “a sigh of relief that came too late,” phases in class size caps for grades K-3 over the next four years and offers recurring funding for arts, music and physical education teachers that might have been crowded out by districts’ search for cash to fund new classroom educators.

“The class size chaos that this legislature started caused agony and anger and angst across this state for no reason,” said Cooper.

Meanwhile, Cooper said the deal only “partly” resolves the state’s class size headache, pointing out that—as Policy Watch reported today—the accord comes with no funds for school districts’ construction needs arising from the state mandate.

Cooper said school superintendents were “wringing their hands not knowing what to do” over the infrastructure issues. Many districts will have to spend millions to find new classroom space.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen school superintendents that desperate,”said Cooper. “And these legislators let that problem fester for two years.”

Additionally, the state continues to grapple with a teacher shortage that may vex local school leaders’ efforts to fill more classrooms, a point brought up by the governor Wednesday.

“A smaller class size doesn’t do much good with no teacher in it,” Cooper said.

Cooper’s decision likely has little impact on the bill’s fate, considering the GOP-dominated General Assembly has a veto-proof voting majority on the legislation.

Republicans described the package bill, delivered as a conference report on House Bill 90 last week, as pulling together multiple, urgent issues, including a still-brewing court battle over an elections and ethics board merger, as well as a $58 million environmental mitigation fund that Cooper announced shortly after the pipeline received its permits.

GOP lawmakers say Cooper doesn’t have the authority to oversee that fund. They also suggested the Democratic governor negotiated a “quid pro quo” arrangement to secure the pipeline, which Republican legislators also support.

Cooper said Republicans’ actions “imperiled” that mitigation fund, arguing that he wasn’t sure what would become of the funding now. Legislators say they want to spend the cash on school districts along the pipeline’s route.

The governor also chided GOP legislators for another attempt to merge state elections and ethics boards, a move seen as curbing Cooper’s appointment powers. The state Supreme Court ruled in Cooper’s favor in an ongoing lawsuit over the boards, and a lower court is expected to decide soon how to proceed.

Cooper said this component of the bill is an “unconstitutional scheme.”