From The Times News: NAACP, others call judicial reform a political power grab
North Carolina citizens know that we must have fair and impartial courts. Republican’s in Raleigh disagree. They would like to rig our courts in their favor and cherry-pick judges in order to pass their bad laws unchallenged. This isn’t democracy and the people of North Carolina know it.
The Alamance NAACP is calling changes to the way judges are elected in North Carolina a racist gerrymander to keep courts from finding Republican moves, such as legislative redistricting, unconstitutional.
“Basically what has happened over the last few years is everything that this legislature has tried to do — they have failed,” Donald Matthews, district director of the state NAACP, said at a press conference Friday, in the new offices of the nonprofit organization Down Home N.C., in the old Dixie Outfitters space in Burlington Outlet Village. “The courts have ruled that everything that they have done has been unconstitutional, so now their next move is to move into an area of where they can elect the judges that they see fit, that think the way that they think.”
Over the past year, the Republican-dominated General Assembly has made several reforms to the judiciary, starting with making elections for District and Superior Court judges partisan again, and then eliminated primaries in those races, which critics say makes for a longer general-election ballot that is confusing for voters — both over vetoes by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper.
Now, a law the state house passed at the end of the session — HB 717 — would redraw judicial districts, which hasn’t been done in about 50 years and is generally considered necessary, but the new districts pit several incumbent judges against each other and, critics say, put several minority and female judges at risk of losing their seats.
“It targets black judges and women judges and black voters, which is really racist,” said Linda Sutton, Central Piedmont organizer for Democracy N.C. “They plan to take over the courts to appoint their own judges … so when we challenge them, we won’t have anywhere else to go.”
A nonpartisan commission would vet judicial candidates, and the legislature would appoint them to their first terms with elections to come later, when they are already incumbents.
Another piece of legislation introduced in the Senate, SB 698, would have all judges from the N.C. Supreme Court to District Court face re-election every two years, which, critics say, would mean judges spent a lot more time fundraising and campaigning.
Barrett Brown, president of Alamance NAACP, used the press conference to call people to join the group at a rally Wednesday, Jan. 10, at the state legislative building in Raleigh. Details about transportation to the event are at acnaacp.org.