Editorial: Legislative leaders want to put justice up for sale

Posted October 20, 2017 5:00 a.m. EDT


CBC Editorial: Friday, Oct. 20, 2017; Editorial # 8226
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

Justice in North Carolina doesn’t need to be blind. It should go to the highest bidder. That seems to be the main objective of Senate leader Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore and their rules committee chairs Sen. Bill Rabon and Rep. David Lewis.

That is the practical impact of their dangerous plan to change the State Constitution to dramatically reduce the terms of state judges – including state Supreme Court justices – from eight to a mere two years.

They should install “FOR SALE” signs in front of every courthouse and on every judge’s bench.

A shift to two-year terms would make judges constantly accountable to those who contributed the most to their campaigns. Fundraising would be constant. It would give a new, and quite literal meaning to the notion of judge shopping.

In post-colonial America a lifetime appointment for judges – of course requiring “good behavior” – was a critical element of independent justice. Judges shouldn’t have their jobs dependent on the ever-shifting currents of popular politics. Similarly, their salaries had to be guaranteed so they’d be free from retribution by the budget-writing legislature.

Now, we might forgive Lewis and Rabon – the sponsors of record – they’re not lawyers. But Berger and Moore are attorneys and are familiar with the concept of an independent and impartial judiciary. They both know that the principle of judicial independence in the U.S. Constitution can be traced to John Adams and his role in forming North Carolina’s Constitution of 1776.

Berger, Moore, Rabon and Lewis shouldn’t take North Carolina voters for fools. The cynicism of this latest ploy was unmistakable when Rabon sought to justify the timing for the proposed constitutional amendment:

“In the coming months, the Senate will carefully consider a number of options for reforming the way judges are selected in North Carolina, including the House’s judicial redistricting bill, moving to some form of merit selection of judges and retention elections for judges," Rabon, said.

Just when was the last time North Carolina citizens witnessed the legislature “carefully consider” anything? When was the last time the legislature offered a glimpse, let alone a discussion of “a number of options” on anything?

The selection and longevity of North Carolina judges has changed a bit over time to include nonpartisan elections, public funding and eight-year terms – good ideas that make a lot of sense.

In the many missteps this legislature has taken in politicizing the courts, this one goes into the deepest sinkhole yet. It is a dangerous plan that will give justice to the highest bidder. It is a notion that will lead to corruption at every level of the judicial system.

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