Outrageously the current state legislature, which has been found to be illegally elected by the US Supreme Court, now wants to draw similar maps for our judicial districts. This new judicial redistricting plan is a thinly veiled attempt for Republicans to gain more power. If the courts are just as gerrymandered as the legislature Republicans could push through more legislation unchallenged. It removes important checks and balances and without them a fair question can be asked: are we still a democracy?
Judges who work in the court system and see the tangle of child custody cases, divorces, low-level crimes and complicated murder cases issued a common refrain on Friday as a 30-member Courts Commission reviewed a plan to overhaul election districts for judges and district attorneys across North Carolina.
“If it ain’t broke, please don’t come and try and fix us,” Susan Dotson-Smith, a District Court judge in Buncombe County, said.
“Essentially, the message is this: What is the rush?” Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Gale M. Adams said, relaying a message from the president of the North Carolina Conference of Superior Court Judges. “Why can’t the legislators simply take time to more fully and thoroughly study the issue about judicial redistricting? This is a critical issue that affects a large number of people, the citizens of our state, and so what is the rush? Why can’t we have a nonpartisan, impartial commission and study the impact that it has?”
The Courts Commission was established by state law in the 1960s to evaluate proposed changes to the court system and advise the General Assembly on such issues. Made up of members from all branches of government as well as from the public, the commission has no independent authority of its own.In 2013, Rep. Justin Burr, the bail bondsman from Stanly County behind the judicial redistricting proposal, joined with several other legislators in pushing a bill that would have sent the Courts Commission to its demise and turned its duties over to a legislative committee. Burr’s bill failed.
The commission, largely dormant for much of the past decade, came together on Friday with a renewed energy and mission as major changes are being proposed to the courts that provide checks on the lawmakers.
Rep. Sarah Stevens, a Republican from Mount Airy, a lawyer and member of the House judicial redistricting committee that voted overwhelmingly for Burr’s maps on Wednesday, is the head of the Courts Commission. She was tapped to lead it nearly three years ago when Republicans controlled both legislative chambers and the executive office.
Critics of the proposed changes to the legislative districts argue the plan is an attempt to give Republicans more power in the courts that have been a roadblock on key provisions of the Republican legislative agenda.
The lawmakers decided earlier this year to make all judicial races partisan — from the state Supreme Court to the district courts, which handle traffic cases, child custody issues, divorces and low-level crimes. In the months since, lawmakers have said, Republican judges in large urban areas that often vote for Democrats were worried about having to run for office with partisan labels.
Several months later, Burr revealed new judicial district maps on Twitter. They divide many of the larger urban areas such as Mecklenburg, Wake, Guilford, Forsyth and Buncombe counties into districts where judicial candidates no longer will run in countywide races.