N.C. NAACP leery of GOP special session

North Carolina

Southeast / North Carolina 35 Views

On Wednesday, Jan. 10, supporters of the N.C. NAACP came from all across the state to rally at the N.C. General Assembly to protest why they believe the state legislature is back in session weeks before they’re officially scheduled to come back.

“The independent judiciary is under attack in North Carolina,” says Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the N.C. NAACP, “… and the people understand that this attack is a threat to our democracy.”

Thus, the reason for “Fair Courts Day of Action.”

A coalition of social justice groups, led by the N.C. NAACP, Democracy North Carolina and Progress NC, reacted to bills either passed or introduced by the Republican-led legislature in 2017 that gerrymanders the state’s judicial districts, targeting black judges by packing them so they would compete against each other (passed), or would cut judicial terms from the state Supreme Court to Superior Court from eight years and four years, down to just two years (proposed), or even institute a merit selection system where state lawmakers appoint the judges they want to the bench (also proposed).

No other state in the nation has such a system in place.

“It targets black judges and women judges and black voters, which is really racist,” Linda Sutton, organizer for  Democracy NC  told the Times-News of Burlington. “[The Republicans] plan to take over the courts to appoint their own judges … so when we challenge them, we won’t have anywhere else to go.”

Indeed, one of the key legislative measures passed last year was in the state House, canceling the 2018 primaries for judicial candidates. Earlier last year, the GOP majority also passed HB 239, which reduced the number of judges on the state Court of Appeals from 15 to 12, in an effort to deny Democratic Gov. Cooper the ability to fill the three court vacancies that would occur during his term.

That plan was partially thwarted when Appellate Court Judge Douglas McCullough retired early, allowing Cooper to appoint his replacement before the bill could be enacted.

So exactly what are both the state House and Senate planning in terms of revamping the state’s judiciary – the one branch of government that in recent years, has successfully countered much of the Republican social agenda for North Carolina?

Last week, during a special Senate committee appointed by Senate Pres. Pro-tem Phil Berger (Rockingham), four possible plans were revealed to be under consideration –

1. The Blue Plan – where judicial elections for appellate judges are suspended; the governor nominates candidates; both state houses confirm the nominations within 60 days; and a general election is held for voters to either accept or reject the legislative confirmation.

2. The Orange Plan – a 15-member Judicial Nominating Commission picks two candidates. The governor appoints one of the two, with that judicial appointee serving a 14-year term, and is eligible for re-nomination by the Commission.

3. The Red Plan – The General Assembly appoints a candidate when a judicial vacancy occurs. That judicial appointee serves for life or until the age of 72.

4. The Purple Plan – a non-partisan independent Merit Selection Commission appointed by the state Supreme Court Chief Justice. That 7 or 9 member panel will forward all nominations to the NC General Assembly for further consideration. Local commissions will do the same for superior court and district court nominees. Upon review, state lawmakers forward the three best nominees to the governor, who then appoints. Voters vote to confirm or reject the governor’s choice, which if confirmed would serve  10-year term. That appointee is not eligible to be re-appointed to the same court.

What plan the N.C. General assembly ultimately chooses will become evident during the Special Session.

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