In the Case of Justice Phil Berger Jr., North Carolina Judges Must Be Impartial

In the Case of Justice Phil Berger Jr., North Carolina Judges Must Be Impartial

NAACP and SELC (Southern Environmental Law Center) have asked State Supreme Court Justices Phil Berger Jr and Tamara Barringer to recuse themselves from their lawsuit that contests the 2018 constitutional amendments on Voter ID and the income tax cap.

Both groups have asked Justice Berger Jr. to remove himself from ruling on the lawsuit due to his father, Phil Berger Sr., being a defendant in the suit, in addition to the Judicial Code of Ethics naming familial relations as a reason for recusal.

  • The Judicial Code of Ethics provides examples of conflicts of interest and specifically lists family relationships as a source of conflict worthy of recusal. Common sense would tell any honest person that a father-son relationship is a conflict.
  • “It [the code] further explains that a judge should disqualify themselves when a person “within the third degree of relationship” to either themselves or their spouses is a part of the proceeding. The plaintiffs argued that Berger Jr. and his father Berger Sr. are within a first-degree relationship”, according to N.C. Policy Watch.
  • Beyond their familial relationship, the political fortunes of Justice Berger Jr. are heavily connected to the defendant, Phil Berger Sr. — underscoring that it is hard to separate their interests. 

Phil Berger Sr. has a long history of dodging accountability and being transparent with North Carolinians’ about supporting legislation that benefits himself. Having his son rule on a case that he is a defendant for, is yet another example of Phil Berger finding an advantage by any means, despite its impact on our state and judicial system.

Bottom Line:

Judges are supposed to be impartial, that is why sometimes they must step away from a case when they have a conflict of interest. Supreme Court Justice Phil Berger Jr. is about to stand in judgment of his own father — that is a conflict of interest.

If Justice Berger refuses to recuse himself, it will set a dangerous precedent for all future Supreme Court decisions by jeopardizing the court’s impartiality and casting doubt over the integrity of our judicial process.

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Alanna Joyner

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