Editorial: Berger and Moore's statement threatened court, NC Bar should review
Posted February 14
A CBC Editorial: Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017; Editorial# 8124
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company
In times when the president of the United States refers to members of the independent federal judiciary as “so-called” judges it might be easy to dismiss the caustic judicial criticism from North Carolina’s two most powerful legislators as partisan hyperbole – simply part of the political game.
That would be wrong.
Last week Senate boss Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, both Republicans, vociferously disagreed with a judicial temporary order on the new law demanding Senate confirmation of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s cabinet picks.
Instead of dissenting in a respectful manner, Republicans Berger and Moore issued an incendiary statement that went dangerously beyond politics:
“In a gross misreading of the Constitution and a blatant overstep of their Constitutional authority, three Superior Court judges attempted to dictate to the legislature when it could or could not hold committee meetings and what it could or could not consider in those meetings. … (I)f these three men want to make laws, they should hang up their robes and run for a legislative seat. Their decision to legislate from the bench will have profound consequences, and they should immediately reconvene their panel and reverse their order.”
It is one thing to disagree with the ruling, but quite another to accuse judges of acting outside the law. Even more outrageous, Berger and Moore threatened the judges – and the entire judicial branch of government – with retaliation, “profound consequences” (which it doesn’t take a stretch to interpret as budget cuts and new laws that would threaten the judges’ independence) if they don’t change their ways.
Former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Burley Mitchell says he thinks that the legislature will prevail in the case and understands their frustration. Still, he offered this observation about Berger and Moore’s comments: “The courts these days are so deeply involved with legislation. But it is crucial to remember that judges don’t wake up in the morning wanting to take these issues on. … I have little doubt that when the Chief Justice saw those comments, he got a bit worried about his budget.”
Specific rules govern the conduct of public officials who are also lawyers and we have no doubt that Berger and Moore are well aware of these prohibitions against using their position to influence judges; making reckless statements concerning the integrity of judges; or threatening, bullying or harassing judges with the intent to intimidate them.
It appears to us that Berger and Moore have violated those rules. But only the North Carolina Bar can make that determination. They should immediately conduct a review. The independence of the judiciary requires it.
There is precedent for such an action. Consider the case of former Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline, who made public statements about Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson that “contained inappropriate language, were intemperate, were inflammatory and tended to lessen the public confidence in our legal system.”
Following an investigation and hearings, Cline lost her publicly-elected job and the N.C. Bar suspended her license to practice law.
Holding public office doesn’t give you license to behave badly. When legislators take on leadership responsibilities like Berger and Moore, they should set standards for the entire legislature. Dissent is one thing, but bullying, threatening and insulting judges should be reviewed by the N.C. Bar.
This has to stop.