NC Capitol

NC Capitol

House, Senate remain far apart on judicial overhaul

Posted January 11, 2018 7:38 p.m. EST
Updated July 13, 2018 1:48 p.m. EDT

— Despite the fact that the congressional and legislative district maps they've drawn have been ruled unconstitutional by federal judges, Republican lawmakers appear ready to move ahead with a redraw of the state's judicial districts.

A joint House and Senate committee met for the first time Thursday to hammer out details, but it's clear that the two chambers have very different ideas about what the overhaul should include.

Senate Republicans are proposing to give themselves and the governor the authority to decide who sits on trial and appellate courts, including the state Supreme Court. Those are all elected offices, and aside from District Court judgeships, voters would have to approve a constitutional amendment to make them appointed.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are backing a plan that would force an estimated 40 to 50 percent of the state's black judges into districts where they would have to run against each other to retain a seat on the bench.

Rep Justin Burr, R-Stanly, who drew the new judicial maps that the full House approved in October, said Thursday that he wasn't aware of the race of the judges who would be forced out.

Rep. Duane Hall, D-Wake, and other Democrats were skeptical, however.

"In response to Sen. McKissick's question about the criteria used (to draw the maps), your response was the same ones that was used for the legislative and congressional maps. Are you aware that both of those sets of maps have been declared unconstitutional?" Hall asked.

"Yeah, I read the newspaper and am very well aware of what's going on," Burr replied.

"I think our duty here is to correct an injustice when we see one," he said in support of his maps, noting that population changes have left the districts out of whack in terms of equal representation.

The Senate hasn't yet taken up the House's proposed judicial maps.

Lawmakers have received more than 1,000 public comments on their reform plans – they were made public by a group opposed to the changes – and they appear to be overwhelmingly negative.