Editorial: Zombie bills, like judicial gerrymandering, should stay entombed in committee

Posted July 5

Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly

A CBC Editorial: Wednesday, July 5, 2017; Editorial # 8182
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

It seems the 2017 session of the General Assembly may never end. Legislators essentially gave themselves a one-month vacation and will return to Raleigh on Thursday, Aug. 3 to take care of unfinished business.

While that unfinished business is supposed to decide how to deal with legislation that was passed and Gov. Roy Cooper might have vetoed, there are plenty of other bills pending that will also occupy their time and attention.

Since 2011 no legislation, it seems, ever dies. These bills are zombie-like. They don’t get the support to pass, but they are never really dead.  They haunt the legislature and spring-up when opposition is most vulnerable.

Such is the case with state Rep. Justin Burr’s clandestine effort to redraw the state’s lines for superior court, district court and prosecutorial districts.

Without warning, the bill suddenly appeared on a House Judiciary Committee's Monday evening calendar. There was no effort to reach out for input from the state’s district attorneys, district and superior court judges or anyone else involved in the judicial system.

A few DAs and judges were rushed to the legislature to explain the disruption, confusion and work-load problems that were being created by Burr’s judicial gerrymandering.

Regardless of the concerns raised, the House Judiciary Committee’s Republicans approved the redrawn districts that were so rigged as to guarantee the election of an overwhelming number of Republicans.

Based on the way the districts were drawn, Republicans were virtually guaranteed to win 41 of 55 District Court and 45 of 57 Superior Court judgeships.

Burr contended he wasn’t merely acting out of partisan greed. He said was just bringing things back in balance from the Democrats gerrymandering of the judicial districts. The bill flew out of the committee and was well on its way to passing the House of Representatives in the waning hours of this portion of the legislative session.  But a bipartisan flood of protest calls from judges and lawyers from around the state ended up sending the bill to the House Elections Committee, where it is on life-support.

Say what he might, the stars of truth and Burr are not aligned.

The districts are the way they are today, not because of political manipulation, but because of past gerrymandering that blocked many African Americans from opportunities to serve as judges. It was settlements in precedent-setting civil rights lawsuits brought in the late 1980s that forced North Carolina to redraw those judicial districts and change the way judges were elected.

In 1986 less than 1 percent of North Carolina’s trial court judges were African American. By 1989, because of the lawsuits and settlements, that number rose to 10 percent.

It is not enough of a warning to Burr and his fellow Republicans that courts, including the highest in the land, have repeatedly said the way this General Assembly has drawn legislative and congressional district lines is discriminatory and unconstitutional. In spite of that, Burr and his fellow GOP stalwarts just turned around and applied the same discriminatory district-making principals to creating new judicial districts. What are they thinking?

How bad is this legislature? “North Carolina is sort of the poster child this decade for broken politics. It almost doesn’t feel quite like a democracy anymore,” Michael Li, senior redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York, told N.C. Policy Watch, a project of the N.C. Justice Center.

Burr promises that his bill will be revived for consideration when legislators return to Raleigh, likely when they take up the court order to redraw the state’s unconstitutional legislative districts.

Like the way of all zombies, Burr’s bill deserves to be decapitated and left to remain well-entombed in a legislative committee and not to be heard of again.


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