When House lawmakers passed a bill to reduce the Court of Appeals from 15 judges to 12, Rep. Joe John was crushed.
The Wake County Democrat spent a quarter of a century in the courts; he’s worked as a legal-aid attorney, a prosecutor and has served on the bench as a District Court judge, Superior Court judge and Court of Appeals judge.
“I took that one pretty hard,” he said of House Bill 239. “I was down; I was depressed.”
He spoke out on the House floor before a vote was taken along party lines. He pointed out that the appellate court’s workload didn’t justify the reduction of judges. He used his experience to try to give insight to legislators who might not understand the weight of their decisions.
“It is possible that folks who had never been judges — and I am the only former judge in the House of Representatives and the Senate, as far as I gather — it’s possible they don’t appreciate and understand the judicial branch is not and has never intended to be a political branch of government,” John said.
The General Assembly has been taking aim at the judiciary since former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory conceded the election in December. There have been a number of bills passed that change the structure of the courts.
The bills, altogether, deal a blow to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper — lawmakers appear to want to strip him of appointment power, and subsequently keep the opposition from becoming the majority.
Cooper has said politics have no place in the courts and John agrees.
The first-term lawmaker won’t go as far as saying he’s gotten used to his peers voting for judiciary bills, but by the time they took a vote last week to override Cooper’s veto of a bill that makes judicial elections partisan again, he wasn’t surprised.
Still, John spoke up before the vote.
“I say to you it is no exaggeration to characterize this issue as not just a vote, but a vote upon which the future of an independent judiciary in North Carolina depends,” he said.
His colleagues didn’t listen. Read more