The town hall event in Fayetteville on November 11th was well attended. Nearly 100 residents turned out to tell their legislators how they feel about the GOP plan to rig our court system. The public agrees that we must have a fair and unbiased court system in order for our state to truly provide justice. Politicizing the courts, gerrymandering the districts, and ousting judges after only 2 years is not the way to have a fair and balanced judiciary.
Progressive activist groups are holding what they describe as an “empty chair town hall” meeting in Fayetteville on Saturday to protest efforts by the North Carolina legislature to reshape how the state picks its judges.
Their meeting starts at 1 p.m. at the J.D. Fuller Recreation Center at 6627 Old Bunce Road. It’s called an “empty chair” town hall because lawmakers who don’t attend will be represented on stage with an empty chair if they have not signed a pledge to oppose the proposed changes.
The legislation that has the organizations riled up:
• A new law that canceled the May primary elections for local judges, state Court of Appeals judges and state Supreme Court justices. Instead, all candidates are to file for election in the summer and face each other in the general election. Critics say this will make the ballots long and confusing. Further, the person who wins each race can do so with far less than a majority (50 percent plus one) of the votes, depending on how many candidates are on the ballot.
• A pending bill to revise the borders of the legislative district maps used to elect judges and district attorneys. Supporters say the maps need to be updated. Critics say the new maps are designed to make it harder for Democrats to win judicial elections and easier for Republicans. This bill passed the state House and is being reviewed by the Senate.
• Legislation to reduce judges to two-year terms. Some serve four years, some serve eight years. Supporters say this will make the judges more accountable to the voters. Critics say the judges will have a constant distraction from having to run for office so frequently, and that they would feel more pressure to issue rulings that may be politically popular but inherently unjust or unfair.
• Proposals to end the practice of electing judges and instead have them be appointed by lawmakers or the governor or both. Supporters say this will reduce some of the political pressure that elected judges face; critics say partisan politicians will cherry-pick people who prefer to make decisions based on ideology instead of in the best interests of justice.
The people expected to attend include former state Rep. Rick Glazier (who now is head of the North Carolina Justice Center), retired Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Gregory A. Weeks, state Rep. Billy Richardson and state Rep. Marvin Lucas.
The event is being presented by NC Voters for Clean Elections, Democracy NC, the North Carolina conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Progress North Carolina.