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.
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
In case you missed it in all the hubbub surrounding the General Assembly, Raleigh’s News & Observer ran a fine op-ed by Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell yesterday about the inexcusable obstructionism in which the GOP is engaging with respect to President Obama’s federal court nominees. Here’s Rampell:
“Republicans have apparently grown bored with rendering the legislative branch completely dysfunctional. Now they’re doing their damnedest to destroy the judicial branch, too.
With little fanfare, the United States’ federal judiciary has started coming apart at the seams, particularly in judicial districts represented by at least one Republican senator. That’s no coincidence. Motivated by a desire both to make President Obama look bad and to delay any judicial appointments until there’s (possibly) a Republican in the White House, GOP senators have thrown obstruction after obstruction in front of the judicial appointment process. As a result, the Republican-controlled Senate has confirmed only six federal judges in 2015.
It’s the slowest pace in over six decades, as documented in a new report from the Alliance for Justice. As a result, since the start of the year, the number of open federal judgeships has increased from 43 to 67, with at least 18 more set to open in the next few months.
Also as a result, ‘judicial emergencies’ – basically, courts where caseloads have become unmanageable – have exploded throughout the country. This has had detrimental effects on both criminal defendants awaiting trial and civil litigants forced to wait months or years for their day in court.”
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.”
As the numbers below from the good people at the Alliance For Justice show, the conservative blockade of President Obama’s judicial nominees is reaching absurd and historic levels. Admittedly, Obama has 18 months to go in his term, but if things continue at their current pace, only 20 nominees will be confirmed during his last two years in office. This number would be vastly lower than any other modern president — a fact that is rendered all the more outrageous by the fact that the country and the judiciary are both much larger than they were in the past.
The consequences of this shameless stall job are being felt all over the country (including here in North Carolina) as our court system grows increasingly incapable of doing its job — serving the legal needs of the citizenry.