From The Greensboro News & Record: Critics slam judicial restructuring
The politicians in Raleigh have already tried to rig the system and cheat voters with racial gerrymandering and unconstitutional voting restrictions that were struck down by the courts. The politicians didn’t like the court rulings, so now they’re trying to change the judges to cement their control.
GREENSBORO — About 175 people turned out Thursday evening for a town hall meeting aimed at preserving a fair and independent court system led by nonpartisan judges.
The much larger crowd than expected heard claims that Republican leaders in Raleigh were tearing at the fabric of judicial independence with new laws already on the books and other bills pending in the state capital.
“We all know what this is really all about,” veteran state Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) said of a pending bill that would redraw judicial districts. “This is about creating more Republican judges.”
Activist groups Progress NC, Democracy NC, N.C. NAACP, and North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections hosted the gathering at Temple Emanuel, along with the League of Women Voters of the Piedmont Triad.
The focus was on several Republican-sponsored initiatives in various stages of consideration or approval in Raleigh. One passed into law over the veto of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper cancels 2018 judicial primaries, making the general election ballots extra long and potentially confusing.
Another that has been approved by the state House of Representatives redraws judicial districts for the general election in ways that critics say would favor Republican candidates.
Speakers also decried an already adopted law that rescinded the state’s nonpartisan judicial elections to instead require judges to identify their political party to make North Carolina the only state to go from nonpartisan to partisan judicial elections.
A fourth measure that came under fire Thursday would cut the terms of all judges to two years, even those recently elected for eight-year tenures, a change that critics contend would force judges to become more politically oriented and focus too heavily on their frequent re-election bids.
State Rep. Amos Quick (D-Greensboro) told the gathering that it all stemmed “from a playbook I think legislators on the other side of the aisle are following.”
Statewide, the new districts in the GOP plan would force half of North Carolina’s black judges to run against each other by putting two or more of them in the same districts, said state Rep. Cecil Brockman (D-High Point), something he said he didn’t think was inadvertent.
The local meeting was the second of 12 the coalition of left-leaning groups plans to hold statewide. It followed an inaugural event in Fayetteville earlier this month that drew a “great turnout” of about 75, said Progress NC director Gerrick Brenner.
He said Thursday’s crowd was outstanding because “we understand this is not a top-of-mind issue for most voters, but it is a critical issue.”
None of the Republican lawmakers who represent parts of Guilford County attended or signed a pledge “to oppose partisan attacks on the judicial system,” so event backers reserved empty chairs for them — state Reps. John Blust of Greensboro, John Faircloth of High Point and Jon Hardister of Whitsett, and state Sen. Trudy Wade of Greensboro, and Senate Leader Phil Berger of Eden.
Hardister sent the groups a page-and-a-half explanation of his support for court changes, including the redistricting plan that he said would fix Guilford’s problem with Superior Court districts that have wildly varying population levels.
Guilford also would get a much needed additional district judge, he said.
“Given the fact that Guilford County’s judicial districts have not been updated in 16 years, it is time to take action,” Hardister said. “This process has been open, transparent and deliberative. It is unproductive to assume that these efforts are being driven by partisan politics.”