From The News & Observer: Should NC lawmakers create laws and select judges who review them?
North Carolina lawmakers would like to not only enact the laws but also judge those laws without interference from the courts. When their attempts to suppress voters and racially gerrymander the legislative districts were struck down in court they decided to rig the court system so they have control. The most recent proposal is to do away with the election of judges altogether and allow the legislature to appoint judges. This not only strips the voters of their voice but essentially does away with the balance of power in the state giving it all to lawmakers. This is unconstitutional, this is undemocratic, this is unfair to the people of North Carolina.
North Carolina lawmakers have spent much of the past year focused on the courts.
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They have made all judicial races partisan, from the state’s highest court to the district courts, which handle traffic cases, child custody issues and misdemeanors, but decided to do away with the partisan primaries in May that typically would narrow the field of candidates.
The lawmakers are weighing vast changes to election districts that have determined the state’s 272 district court judges, 109 superior court judges and elected district attorneys. As that issue remains unresolved, Berger’s chief of staff has been floating the possibility of lawmakers asking voters whether the state should abandon the election of judges and move toward an appointment process to decide who sits on the bench.
What question would be posed to voters remains unclear. No proposal for an amendment to the state Constitution has been released publicly.
During the presentation by Brinkley and Orth, several Republican lawmakers noted several times that in North Carolina, during the century between Colonial times and the state Constitution in 1868, the legislature elected judges. Then in 1868, voters began selecting judges in partisan elections, and that system continued for another century. In the 1990s, the state abandoned partisan elections for some judicial races, but this past year, the lawmakers reinstated them for the trial and appellate courts at a time when many states are abandoning partisan elections.
Create the laws and judge them?
North Carolina lawyer associations have advocated for years changing how judges become judges, with many supporting an appointment system based on “merit-selection.” Many of the same organizations, though, have been hesitant to support changes being discussed in the legislature. The North Carolina Association of District Courts polled its 272 members on whether they favored a system in which judges were selected instead of elected and the results returned in mid-November showed not only that 69 percent supported holding elections but also that 96 percent of the judges were opposed to giving North Carolina lawmakers a role in appointing judges.
At the Senate select committee this week, Sen. Ralph Hise, a Spruce Pine Republican, questioned why lawmakers in the General Assembly were not in a better position than the governor to appoint judges. North Carolina’s legislators run in districts that sometimes only include one county.
Bannon, who was interrupted many times during her presentation with questions from lawmakers, advocated for a merit system that would leave the ultimate task of appointing judges to a governor who is elected on a statewide ballot and can be held accountable to a public that votes him or her in or out of power.
“When you look at the three branches of governance, there is only one branch of governance that designs, writes and ratifies law,” Hise said during Bannon’s presentation highlighting problems in South Carolina, Virginia and Rhode Island, where lawmakers appointed the judges who decide whether their laws pass constitutional muster. “…When you’re coming to a matter of what does a law mean or what does a law stand for or how is a law drafted or what does a law say, is it not the drafter of the law… that would be the most defining expert of the law itself? As we create it, wrote it, draft it, passed it among two chambers and placed it out, why would it be the role of the government whose sole authority is to execute that law to have that kind of balance of power shifted to them?”
Bannon responded that neither the executive nor legislative branch “has the power to interpret the law.”