Editorial: Legislative leaders must not overreach to control court
Posted November 16, 2016
A CBC Editorial: Wednesday, Nov.16, 2016; Editorial# 8082
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company
Oh to be among the Republican leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly.
There is nothing, it seems, beyond their control and power to manipulate.
When they don’t like the way a city council acts, they just pass a law that nullifies it. So what if along the way it legalizes discrimination, costs the state millions of dollars in lost business and eliminates thousands of jobs.
When the son of a top GOP legislative leader needs a boost in his bid to get elected to the state Court of Appeals, just pass a law and change the ballot rules in mid election. So what if, along the way, it injects partisan politics into non-partisan elections, makes sure that black candidates are listed below white candidates and female candidates are listed below male candidates.
And now, when North Carolina’s voters -- 2,134,779 of them and nearly 55 percent of the votes cast -- pick a state Supreme Court candidate contrary to the GOP leadership’s desire, they’re said to be looking to pack the state’s high court with two additional justices to gain a partisan advantage.
Republicans, with a veto-proof majority in the legislature, are concerned that GOP control of the executive branch of state government may not hold. They are looking for some partisan insurance with a majority on the high court – even if they have to make a constitutional maneuver to do it during a special legislative session to deal with urgent Hurricane Matthew matters.
The State Constitution gives the legislature the authority to add two additional justices to the high court. But there’s been no significant increase in the court’s workload and little real justification for needing more justices.
In the last six years, as legislative leaders have asserted their control and domination over Democrats, they’ve justified many of their heavy-handed maneuvers with an all-to-familiar mantra – “we’re just doing what the Democrats did to us.”
In the case of the courts, they go back 16 years to when Democrats added three judges to the then 12-judge state Court of Appeals. Abundant news reports at the time quoted then Court of Appeals Chief Judge Sid Eagles and Tom Ross, director of the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts, saying they did not ask for, nor was it a priority to add any additional judges even though the court’s caseload had increased.
It’s all getting rather old and weak. Enough is enough. Manipulating the ballots in mid-election is wrong. Packing the state Supreme Court is wrong. Justifying it as tit-for-tat is childish school-yard antics.
While these GOP leaders may suffer political amnesia now, we recall the pledges, amid past complaints of perceived power-plays and Democratic excesses. Back then, they pledged that things would be different with new leadership and promised greater transparency, fairness and equanimity.
Those high-minded pledges and promises faded as quickly as echoes in the Legislative Building. The Republicans have matched their Democratic counterparts in most cases and in several others surpassed them. It is not an honorable record.
The same old abuses of power, just because they wear a different political label, don’t make them any less so.
Nothing can be done to correct the unfair ballot manipulation in the Court of Appeals races.
While recent experiences should lead us to conclude otherwise, still we hope that Republicans will resist the unwarranted and purely partisan urge to expand the state Supreme Court.