The news has been dominated recently by the announcement of Brett Kavanaugh as the US Supreme Ct nominee to replace Justice Kennedy. While it’s important to follow the reports coming out about his ideology and potential to re-shape the future of our country, we have to also keep the NC judicial races top of mind as our own Supreme Court may be the last line of defense against discriminatory and illegal legislation.
The NC Supreme Court currently has 7 Justices, serving 8 year terms each. The Chief Justice is Mark Martin, a Republican appointed by former Governor McCrory in 2014. The most recent Justice elected was Mike Morgan, a Democrat, in 2016. His election tilted the court to a 4-3 Democratic majority. The types of cases heard by the Supreme Court include redistricting challenges and separation of powers disputes.
This background is important in understanding the motivation behind SB814, the Judicial Vacancy Sunshine Constitutional Amendment, which will appear on the ballot in November. It would allow this current legislature (in their late November session) to select two nominees for the Governor to choose from when filling judicial vacancies. And it is highly likely that this legislature will create two new vacancies on the Supreme Court, expanding the court to 9 seats, allowable through current law (aka “court packing”).
The motivation behind a court packing scheme lies in a very competitive Supreme Court election this November, with social justice advocate Anita Earls on the ballot. If Anita Earls wins, there will be a 5-2 Democratic majority on the Supreme Court. If two additional seats are added the balance could move to 5-4. For this reason the NCGOP has already started a slanderous campaign against her as it is their only hope to swing the balance back to a 5-4 GOP majority should she lose.
Give this speech by Rep. Darren Jackson a watch to better understand the court packing issue:
NC Policy Watch has an excellent Q&A series with all of the NC judicial candidates, and has kicked it off with responses by the three Supreme Court candidates: incumbent Barbara Jackson, veteran civil and voting rights attorney Anita Earls and a newcomer, Raleigh attorney Chris Anglin.
Here’s some additional reading on how the NCGOP changed the rules for ballot order of judicial candidates, and how being last on the ballot (as Anita Earls will now be) can affect voters’ selection.
This November we need to look at our ballot from the bottom up. The NCGOP knows that on a long and confusing ballot there will be drop off as people tend to stop after the higher profile races towards the top.
That’s why they adjusted the process this year to ensure that the highest profile and only statewide race on the ballot would be at the very end, near the 6 constitutional amendments.
Read more here to learn how their plan to eliminate judicial primaries and make the judicial races partisan may now backfire on them with two Republican judges running against Anita Earls.