The GOP members of the newly appointed Senate Select Committee on Judicial Reform and Redistricting have been meeting secretly in back rooms to draft plans that could completely change the way judges are selected in North Carolina.
In the last committee meeting on Dec. 13th, new maps were presented at the end of the meeting which were not on the agenda nor had they been presented for review ahead of time to the 5 Democratic members. Nor would they allow a former judge, who was acting as the Governor’s delegate, to have any opportunity to speak. Having independent judges is too important an issue to be decided behind closed doors and without hearings from stakeholders and the public at regular intervals.
We want fairness, not politics in our courts. These changes must be stopped before the public loses all faith in having an independent judicial system. Tell your legislators it’s time to pull back the curtains, and shine a light on any proposed changes to the selection of our judges.
There is nothing more fundamental to our American democracy than the separation of powers that exists between three separate and equal branches and our right to participate in electing their members. Fair and impartial courts are a sacred tenet of our system of checks and balances and will fail if we allow special interests to gain influence over the selection and retention of judges. We need strong courts that are free from political influence.
Public Comments Needed
The NCGA is seeking public comments about Judicial Reform & Redistricting. We have included recommended talking points below, or feel free to read through this background and submit your own.
Why this sudden push for judicial reform?
There were no major calls for such from constituents or from within the judiciary. Instead, since 2013, the NCGOP majority has led a controlled effort to increase its own power at the expense of the people and other two branches. The last time the judicial system was reformed was in the 1950s, when the Bell Commission was appointed. After 3 years it produced a 71 page report to the GA. Only after another 4 more years of discussion did the voters have an amendment on the ballot in 1962.
Consider the timeline of changes this GOP led General Assembly has made since 2013: (read more on the history at FairCourtsNC.com)
The Bottom Line
GOP politicians in Raleigh are trying to gain partisan control over the courts and rig the system in their favor. #FairElections of judges ensure separation of the three branches of government, with judges being accountable to the voters. If there is a Constitutional Amendment, we must encourage a high voter turnout against rigged courts!
Ideas for Public Comments to the NCGA
- Our courts should be celebrated as the one branch apart from politics;
- Judges should be evaluated on their character, integrity, impartiality and willingness to decide cases based on the law and the evidence presented;
- Voters must be informed about special interest efforts to politicize the courts;
- The courts must be protected from those who would politicize them.
- Any process of judicial reform should be undertaken with a bi-partisan review, with input from stakeholders, experts and the public, in an open and transparent process.
- Any consideration of merit based appointments should include an equitable process with input from the executive and legislative branches, as well as a non-partisan committee and additional voter input.
Based on these principles, here is some recommended text you can use in your comments.
- Our courts need more independence and less partisanship, not the other way around. If our state legislature appoints judges instead of the voters, the politicians will cherry-pick judges who tilt the scales based on political ideology, not fairness.
- This scheme by politicians to rig the judicial system in their own favor will only further erode people’s faith in the courts to provide justice fairly and impartially, free from the influence of big money.
- Without public trust, the court’s authority and legitimacy will be compromised. Any changes to the process for selecting judges should be with the goal of ensuring public trust and confidence in the judicial system.
- Changes to the method of selecting judges should be done through a transparent process with meaningful opportunities for public review and comment at each stage of the process.
- Stakeholders – including judges, prosecutors, civil lawyers, and law enforcement – should be actively involved in deciding what, if any, changes should be made to either the judicial districts, or the methods of selecting judges.
- Judicial districts should not be “gerrymandered” on the basis of either race or party.
- The Judicial Redistricting scheme proposed in HB717 will most likely end up in court just as the gerrymandered legislative maps have. This is a wasteful use of taxpayer money which could be better spent on fully funding our public classrooms and teachers, the opioid crisis management or other urgent causes. The cost to tax payers if HB717 were to pass is estimated at over $31.8M over the next five years. Large scale reforms are less likely to end up in court battles if they are done with the intent of serving the people of this state in a fair, respectful and open process.
- The proposed Constitutional Amendment, S698, as currently written, is problematic because it reduces judges’ terms to only 2 years. Many complicated legal cases can take a while to resolve, and if judges are constantly forced to run for re-election, it will be more difficult for them to learn the necessary information for each case. In addition, with the distraction of having to run for office every other year, it will be more difficult for judges to be impartial. Any changes to the process for selecting judges should be for the purpose of attracting and maintaining highly-qualified, impartial judges whom the public will trust to be thoughtful and independent. I ask that you do not make any changes without meaningful public participation in the process.
- From the Poll written by Progress NC Action and conducted by Public Policy Polling during October 20-21 based on a survey of 570 North Carolina voters.
- Only 41% of African-American voters know of judicial election changes
- 52% oppose redrawing judicial maps
- 55% oppose shortening judge terms
- 59% oppose eliminating primaries
- 75% oppose eliminating judge elections
*Copy and save your comments before submitting the form, and share them on social media, tagging reporters and other media outlets. In addition you can use your comments in a Letter to the Editor of your local paper.
- Email your state reps to tell them to stand up to power and stop the attack on the judiciary. Start by asking them to sign the FairCourtsNC pledge, and sign it yourself.
- Call or contact the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and let them know your concerns about the process and intent of changing the entire judicial system. Find the Committee contact info HERE.
- Attend the #FairCourtsNC rally and Citizens Day of Action at the NCGA on January 10th. There will be a press conference at 11am in the Bicentennial Plaza, followed by a Citizens Lobby Day Of Action (lunch provided). More info at the Facebook event. Other events across NC are listed here.
- Share what is happening outside of NC and encourage lots of national publicity. Former Attorney General Eric Holder has called North Carolina “ground zero” in the attack on voting rights, so what happens here matters across the nation.
- Write to your local papers.
- Reach far and wide through the business community in NC. The bigger the company the better, but also to groups of small business owners. Enlist their help in approaching the NCGA with the reasoning that if they don’t feel comfortable defending their property rights in a fair and independent court then they will not feel comfortable doing business here in NC since it jeopardizes their property. This is key, as we saw with HB2.
- Volunteer for a canvass in your precinct to talk about these issues with your neighbors (ask your precinct chair to contact their district coordinator or StrongerNC for help getting started) Spread the word! Lots of voter education will be important to let people know that voting in the upcoming elections is critical.
- Donate to Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Common Cause, DemocracyNC, NC Voters For Clean Elections, NAACP and/or the NC Democratic Party. All of these groups are actively working to protect the constitutionally guaranteed separation of power for North Carolina Judges, and #FairElections.
- Share this graphic on social media to help spread the word.
Thanks to FairCourtsNC.com for a lot of the great information we’ve shared with you in this post. Visit them for more information and ideas.