Archives

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

Hillary ClintonWith the 2016 presidential election already taking shape, one issue that likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton seems certain to emphasize in the months ahead is the future of the federal courts.

GOP candidates will no doubt trot out their tired and absurd old claims about opposing “activist liberal judges,” but the truth of the matter is that if there are any activist judges on the federal bench these days, they are of the Right. One need look no further than the Scalias, Thomases and Alitos of the world and the Citizens United decision they gave us to see what they look like and how far back they plan on taking the nation.

And speaking of Hillary and the courts, here are a couple of other facts that she’d probably do well to emphasize as she looks to mobilize her likely supporters:

In 2017, the combined ages of Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Scalia and Kennedy will be 325.

The last time a Democratic president appointed the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was 1946 — the year before she — Clinton — was born.

Commentary

When North Carolina lawmakers passed a law last year mandating drug testing of public benefit recipients modeled (at least in part) on a law in Florida, civil liberties and anti-poverty advocates told them it was a bad and unconstitutional idea.

Today those advocates are feeling some vindication as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1tth Circuit stuck down Florida’s law. This is from the New York Times story:

The three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, ruled that the law, one of the strictest in the country, was an unreasonable search because Florida officials had failed to show a “substantial need” to test all people who applied for welfare benefits. Applicants were required to submit to urine tests, a measure that Mr. Scott said would protect children of welfare applicants by ensuring that their parents were not buying and using drugs.

“The state has not demonstrated a more prevalent, unique or different drug problem among TANF applicants than in the general population,” the panel said in its unanimous decision, using an acronym for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

North Carolina’s law is not identical, but the same basic logic ought to apply: If we’re going to start doing forced bodily searches of welfare recipients, there’s no logical reason the state shouldn’t be able to mandate such tests for all recipients of public benefits — from college students to Social Security beneficiaries.

let’s hope this decision heralds th beginning of the end for such invasive and ill-conceived programs.

Commentary

Loretta BiggsLoretta Copeland Biggs, President Obama’s nominee for U.S. District Judge in North Carolina’s Middle District, has not yet been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Biggs appeared before the Committee on November 13 for her scheduled hearing and is now waiting on approval by the Committee. If she is approved by the Committee, Biggs’s nomination will then be forwarded to the Senate floor where it will be considered and voted on by the full Senate.  This entire process must occur within the next few weeks in order for Biggs to be confirmed before the Senate’s lame-duck session ends. Nominees who aren’t confirmed this month will have to do it all over again next year, starting with being renominated.

Currently, it seems to be taking approximately a month between when hearings are held and when the Committee approves a candidate. Unfortunately, there is no exact timeline for how long this may take because there are many permitted ways to stall and obstruct the process. At the Committee’s last hearing, for instance, Charles Grassley, Republican Senator from Iowa, unnecessarily decided to delay approval of nine judicial nominees for a week. This in turn delayed scheduling a vote on the Senate floor and will delay the eventual vote itself (which generally seems to occur two to three months later).

These delay tactics do seem to be a ploy to avoid confirming President Obama’s nominees. 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.