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Commentary

The Greensboro News & Record makes several excellent points in this morning’s lead editorial regarding North Carolina’s move from standard, contested elections for the Supreme Court to “retention” elections in which sitting justices receive either a “yea” or “nay” vote. While retention elections are not without merit in theory, the editorial notes, in the present case they’re clearly all about politics:

“Yet, as usual, the Republican-led legislature had a partisan motive. Although the court is officially nonpartisan, Edmunds is a Republican and the court has a 4-3 majority of Republican justices. Even if Edmunds is voted out, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory could appoint another Republican to the court. So, the GOP majority is guaranteed to continue at least until 2018.

The legislature also added to a confusing mixture of election processes for state courts. Each level has a different way of electing judges. In Guilford County, for example, District Court judges are elected countywide but Superior Court judges are elected in districts. They are nonpartisan. State Court of Appeals judges are chosen in contested nonpartisan elections, but candidates’ party affiliations will appear on the ballot. No party label will be listed with Edmunds’ name in his retention election.”

The editorial goes on to note that the switch is now being challenged (with good reason) in a new lawsuit as violating the state Constitution:

“One of the plaintiffs, Sabra Faires, is a Raleigh attorney with 30 years’ experience who says she is qualified to serve on the Supreme Court but is denied the chance to run. Indeed she is. Under the new setup, she might not have an opportunity to run for many years, until a justice is voted out or retires.

Furthermore, voters are denied the chance to choose a new justice if they don’t want to retain Edmunds. The constitution requires that justices shall be elected by the voters of the state. The governor, not the voters, would choose someone to replace Edmunds under the new method.

The lawsuit will be contested, and the courts will decide which side is right. But the legislature invited a legal challenge by making this change in such a clumsy way. It should undertake comprehensive judicial reform rather than move pieces around in an inconsistent fashion for partisan reasons. In this case, a proposed constitutional amendment, put to a vote of the people, would have allowed a needed statewide discussion on the best way to choose Supreme Court judges.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Commentary

Here’s an event that will be worth your time to check out tomorrow (Thursday) evening:

The Health of North Carolina’s Democracy
Threats to Voting Rights & Impartial Courts

Brought to you by North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections, Democracy North Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies, Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Legal Progress, a project of The Center for American Progress

Thursday, October 29th 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh
3313 Wade Avenue – Raleigh, NC 27607

Join us for a screening of the mini-documentary

“Dirty Water, Dirty Money: Coal Ash and the Attack on North Carolina’s Courts”
on the real impact of special interest money on North Carolina’s judiciary.

Following the screening, North Carolina elected officials and policymakers will participate in a panel discussion on how voting rights, money in politics, and fair courts impact the health of North Carolina’s democracy. Featuring:

  • Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-57, Greensboro)
  • Anita Earls – Executive Director, Southern Coalition for Social Justice
  • Chris Kromm – Executive Director, Institute for Southern Studies

Please don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about making North Carolina’s democracy work for everyone – not just the wealthy and well-connected!

Please RSVP by clicking here.
For more information, contact LHarmon@americanprogress.org or (202) 495-3698

Commentary

Anisha Singh at the Center for American Progress has produced a remarkable new infographic on the absurd obstruction of President Obama’s judicial nominees. As the accompanying post notes:

“Since 2015, the U.S. Senate has confirmed just six federal judges to the bench, and the number of judicial emergencies has nearly tripled. As the graphic below shows, this is the worst obstruction of judicial nominations in more than half a century. As a result, millions of Americans are being denied access to justice.”

JudicialConfirmations6-Infographic-UPDATE

Commentary

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.