Democratic senators walked out of a legislative study committee meeting Wednesday on judicial selection after the committee chairman refused to let Gov. Roy Cooper’s representative speak at the meeting, according to accounts by The News & Observer of Raleigh and others.
Critics responded that it is important for judges to be independent from the General Assembly precisely because they are asked to pass on the constitutionality of laws it passes. Of course governors, who appoint judges in many states, have a stake in judges’ decisions too. But GOP legislators appear to be particularly stung by several court rulings that have overturned laws they passed after Republicans took control of the General Assembly in 2011.
Chances may be fading for approving dramatic changes to how and from where judges are selected in North Carolina when the General Assembly reconvenes briefly in a few weeks, a key state legislator said Friday.
Senate leaders have since created a panel to scrutinize the maps as well as alternatives to the head-to-head judicial elections the state has used for 150 years. Many lawyers, including Chief Justice Mark Martin, have said the election system should be replaced. Senate Republicans have suggested judicial redistricting could be passed in tandem with judicial selection overhaul pushed by the House.
The panel has met three times, but its members, particularly the majority Republicans, don’t yet sound unified on whether they want to make a change, let alone what change they’d prefer.
GOP lawmakers have said the judicial primary cancellation would give them more time to study potential changes to judicial election districts and possible “merit selection” of judges. But party attorneys John Wallace and Eddie Speas wrote in the complaint that “no compelling or important regulatory interest justifies” the elimination.
Senate leader Phil Berger, one of the lawsuit’s defendants, said in a release that Cooper and the Democratic Party were the ones trying to manipulate partisan outcomes by going yet again to court because they are “unable to win control of the legislature at the ballot box or to sustain the governor’s veto of legislation that doesn’t serve their political goals.”