The energy at a fair courts rally outside the legislature Wednesday was palpable.
Hundreds of people were crowded outside at Bicentennial Plaza carrying signs demanding a judiciary free of politics and chanting things like “we won’t stop.” They engaged with several speakers at the Fair Courts Day of Action, including former state Supreme Court Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson.
“Our courts should be as free as we can make them from partisan politics,” she said.
The crowd shook their heads and several people audibly agreed with her. She spoke about offering her judicial experience in the hopes that people understand why she cares so deeply about the courts.
“At the conclusion of my remarks, I hope that you too will care about what is happening in our courts and to our courts and to our judges,” she said.
Lawmakers reconvened Wednesday for a special session with an unclear agenda. It was speculated that the special session was called to pass some form of judicial reform, whether redistricting or judicial selection.
Timmons-Goodson said such reform should be the result of thorough, careful, bipartisan discussion, not retaliation for judges perceived by legislators as activists.
“An independent judiciary is one of the bedrock principles that is a part of the interlocking framework of principles that are in place for our nation to ensure liberty,” she said. “Judges must be free to enforce the law without fear of reprisal.”
Jae Slaughter, 23, of Asheville, was one of the people listening in the crowd.
“They need some accountability,” she said of lawmakers. “They keep thinking they can do what they want and we’ll get too tired or exhausted to fight. They can’t just shoo us away.”
She said she cares particularly about the court issue because she doesn’t want to see the courts repeat mistakes from the past.
“But [lawmakers are] more concerned with politics than justice and solutions,” Slaughter added.
She said she thinks the rally “is just the beginning” for votehrs getting involved. “People know this matters and that’s the most important part of democracy.”
In an effort to help more people understand the consequences of proposed judicial reform, the Southern Coalition of Social Justice released the same day as the rally an analysis of the Senate’s most recent judicial redistricting maps.
“If enacted, the most recent judicial redistricting proposal would create layers upon layers of unconstitutionality in our judicial system,” said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the SCSJ and author of the white paper. “Huge variation in the number of residents per judges across our state, with a consistent pattern of too many people per judge in our urban areas will likely result in people of color disproportionately having less access to our justice system.”
Melissa Price Kromm, Executive Director of N.C. Voters for Clean Elections, said North Carolinians should take stock of the analysis considering a federal court’s ruling Tuesday against lawmakers’ use of partisan gerrymandering.
“We need to take our time if we’re going to talk judicial redistricting,” she said.
She also warned that North Carolina is a test case, and if GOP lawmakers are successful in their bids to take over the courts, “it will spread like a disease.”