This editorial appeared in the Star-News, Wilmington
Four former chief justices of the state Supreme Court, one of them a Republican, believe the N.C. General Assembly is taking actions that “seriously harm our judicial system” and “hurt the people of our State,” according to a story in The News & Observer.
In a letter to Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, the former justices criticized a bill adopted by the GOP-dominated legislature cutting the Court of Appeals from 15 judges to 12.
Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, says he'll veto it. But the Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate. They recently overrode a Cooper veto of their bill converting Superior Court and District Court elections into partisan races.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Republicans say the workload of the Court of Appeals is shrinking, and indeed it has.
But the four former chief justices – Democrats Burley Mitchell, James G. Exum Jr. and Sarah Parker and Republican I. Beverly Lake – say the court’s workload remains heavy.
A more likely motivation is that three of the court’s 15 judges are facing mandatory retirements during Cooper’s term. All three are Republicans. The Democratic governor would appoint their replacements.
This latest move appears to continue the General Assembly’s effort to reach into every aspect of governance and render it almost irrevocably Republican.
After Cooper was elected, the honorables limited the number of staffers appointed by the governor. They also began requiring Senate approval of cabinet secretaries. There was no such requirement for Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. That decision is being challenged in court.
The courts are also pondering changes imposed on state and local elections boards that weaken the power of the governor and of Democrats in local districts during years of crucial elections. A U.S. District Court judge said the General Assembly’s attempt to redraw district lines for Greensboro City Council is unconstitutional.
Last year, the courts threw out the congressional maps drawn up by the Honorables, forcing a special primary. We’re still awaiting a ruling on the General Assembly’s state legislative districting plan.
And last year, the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a voter ID law it said was designed to disenfranchise minority voters.
The list goes on.
There’s no imperative to reduce the number of judges on the Court of Appeals. This is not “good governance,” as our state constitution mandates. It is another naked grab for partisan power.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen it before.