Opinion

North Carolina can lead on judicial reform through state constitutional amendment

Replacing a U.S. Supreme Court Justice and replacing a state judge in North Carolina are not the same – but North Carolina can lead the nation to a more bipartisan process focused on professional qualifications.

During the national disgrace surrounding the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, we saw the desperate need for reform. North Carolina will show the nation how to construct a bipartisan judicial appointment process by passing the State Constitutional Amendment on Judicial Vacancies.

Nothing about the Kavanaugh confirmation process was fair or professional. Justice Kavanaugh was drug through the mud in the court of public opinion, and his accuser was unfairly thrust into the spotlight when her name was leaked to the press against her wishes. Justice Kavanaugh was subjected to hours of nationally televised questioning about 35-year old jokes from his high school yearbooks.

Well qualified nominees like him and Raleigh’s own Tom Farr are hit with disgusting smear campaigns with accusations and innuendos by activists determined to stop good Judges, no matter the cost. They do this simply for political reasons.

The situation here in Raleigh is scarcely better. Governors tend to appoint Judges who have failed at the ballot box on multiple occasions. Unlike most judges in North Carolina, who stand for election, replacement judges for vacancies caused by death, resignation or mandatory age-based retirement carry no seal of approval from voters. Our communities have their local jJudges forced upon them, often against their wishes.

This is not the fault of Democrats. This is not the fault of Republicans. It is the fault of a flawed system.

Instead of disgusting, partisan smear games, other examples of trickery such as promoting fake candidates, or appointing candidates that the voters find objectionable; this amendment will create a new system to place qualified judges on the bench though an orderly process with the involvement of all three branches of government.

Before any Judges can be appointed, they must first be nominated by a citizen. Nominees will be screened for qualifications by local and statewide committees appointed by all three branches of government. Selections will then be sent to the General Assembly, who will add insight from their local areas and present a list of nominees to the governor.

This amendment preserves the role of the governor who makes the final decision from the list of qualified names provided by the General Assembly and the people of North Carolina. This amendment gives citizens the ability to nominate for the temporary appointments, and will preserve the right of the people of North Carolina to elect their Judges. Voters will have the final say on who sits on the bench. Appointments will be a temporary solution until the voters are able to make a choice in an upcoming election.

North Carolina can show the nation a better way. Through citizen input combined with bipartisan evaluation of qualification and consensus building input from all three branches of government, we can appoint Judges in a professional and fair manner. I will be voting for the Judicial Vacancy Amendment, along with the other well-reasoned amendments, and I hope you will too.

Thomas Stark is general counsel to the N.C. Republican Party and a candidate in N.C. Senate District 20.

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