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The list of counter-productive proposals on Jones Street has been expanding rapidly in recent days and both the Charlotte Observer and Greensboro News & Record have new essays blasting one that’s already been approved by the state House: the idea of partisan elections for judges (and even school board members!).

Here’s the N&R in an editorial entitled “No need for parties”:

“No matter the motives, North Carolina made a wise move in 2004 [when they made judicial elections non-partisan]. Nonpartisan elections, and officially nonpartisan courts, really do reduce the kind of hyper-partisanship that we have in state and federal legislative bodies. Judges should not line up with their political parties when deciding cases. Voters may perceive partisan differences on the courts, and rulings may break along party lines sometimes. For the most part, however, partisan distinctions aren’t apparent on our state’s highest courts.”

And here’s veteran Republican attorney John Wester writing in the Observer in an op-ed entitled “Don’t further politicize judiciary”: Read More

Commentary

There’s still a long way to go in transforming our criminal justice system into what it needs to be. Indeed, the lead editorial in Sunday’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer reminded us that the ongoing assault on North Carolina’s court system by the General Assembly and Governor McCrory is as absurd as it is counterproductive and shortsighted.

And yet, despite the ridiculous budget cuts that have resulted in all kinds of destructive service reductions, there is some promising news on the criminal justice front.  Today’s lead editorial in the News & Observer explains:

In 2011, North Carolina’s prison population was growing. The probation system was failing because of lax supervision caused by understaffing. A majority of prison admissions were because of revoked probations. Treatment programs to help inmates addicted to drugs and suffering other behavioral problems were sparse. Prisons were always under construction to keep up with growing inmate populations.

Then Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue and Republican lawmakers agreed to address the issues through the Justice Reinvestment Act. Now, the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments reports that the state is doing better than its expectations, the Associated Press reported.

Simply put. the state chilled out — at least a little — on the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” approach to criminal sentencing and put at least a few more resources into post-release supervision and services in an effort to cut down on recidivism. There is  real reason to believe that such an approach will both produce better results for society and save money.

Not surprisingly, state efforts in this area are far from perfect and continue to be hamstrung by pandering politicians bent on showing how macho they are when it comes to crime. Many additional changes and services are needed. That said, as this morning’s editorial notes, the reports thus far on the Justice Reinvestment Act (click here for a thorough explanation from the good folks at the Carolina Justice Policy Center) make clear that the model shows real promise and deserves lots more effort and attention.

Let’s hope the humane, cost-effective and bipartisan reforms keep on coming.

News

A nearly-dormant N.C. Courts Commission came back to life at the state legislative building Tuesday, with hopes from commission members that it will be tapped once again to advise the legislature on the statewide judicial systems’ needs and problems.

Less than a dozen of the 28-member commission attended Tuesday’s meeting, chaired by state Rep. Sarah Stevens, a Mt. Airy Republican and an attorney herself.

Stevens said the commission’s work had been negligible in recent years, and some in the legislature floated the idea of getting rid of the commission. N.C. Policy Watch’s courts and law reporter Sharon McCloskey wrote about the potential demise of the courts commission in 2013.

On Tuesday, Stevens said the request to revive the courts commission came from the governor’s office.

“This is one that Gov. McCrory really wanted to save,” she said.

So, just how long has it been since the N.C. Courts Commission has done substantial amounts of work?

More than 15 years, James Drennan of the University of North Carolina’s School of Government told the commission’s newest panel of members, many of whom are in elected position in courts around the state.

Read More

Commentary

Raleigh’s News & Observer has re-posted an editorial this morning that recently ran in its McClatchy sibling in Charlotte that deserves to be spread far and wide. It’s central message: North Carolina’s law mandating that judges retire at age 72 (the one that force current Supreme Court Justice Sarah Parker to retire this weekend) is ridiculous, out-dated and needs to be retired itself. Here is the excellent conclusion

Thirty-three states require the compulsory retirement of judges, with most setting an age limit between 70 and 75. Some of those laws were written to avoid lifetime tenure in states where judges don’t face re-election challenges. Some were written to ensure that the courts have a vigorous judiciary. (If North Carolina must have an age limit, we suggest a look at Vermont, which doesn’t force the gold watch on its judges until they hit 90. Now that’s some long-lasting vigor.)

The best approach: Lose the age limit. Federal judges don’t have one. Neither does any branch of government. Mandatory retirement is unnecessary and discriminatory. It’s also costly – North Carolina has to pay retirement benefits to a perfectly good judge, then pay another judge to take his or her place.

The bigger cost, however, is the experience and wisdom that leave the bench when judges are forced to retire. Let judges – and the people who elect them – determine when it’s time to go.

ead more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/08/28/4103439/judging-when-someones-too-old.html?sp=/99/108/#storylink=cpy

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Uncategorized

Ian MillhiserSeats are going fast for next week’s NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation – “The state of the U.S. Supreme Court with Ian Millhiser of the Center for American Progress.”

Where do things stand in the after math of the disastrous Hobby Lobby decision? What’s is on the Supreme Court docket for the fall? What can progressives do help repopulate the courts with fair and qualified judges?

Join us as we pose these questions and others to Ian Millhiser. Millhiser is the Senior Constitutional Policy Analyst for the Center for American Progress and the Justice Editor for the Center for American Progress Action Fund. His work focuses on the Constitution and the judiciary. Ian previously was a Policy Analyst and Blogger for ThinkProgress, held the open government portfolio for CAP’s Doing What Works project, and was a Legal Research Analyst with ThinkProgress during the nomination and confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court.

Don’t miss the opportunity to hear from this knowledgeable and important voice at this important time.

Click here to register

When: Thursday, August 21 at 12 noon – Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: *(NOTE—NEW LOCATION)* The North Carolina Association of Educators Building, 700 S. Salisbury St. in Raleigh. This location features on-site parking.

Cost: $10

Admission includes a box lunch.

Space is limited – pre-registration required.

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com.