Public comments show near-unanimous opposition to legislative attacks on judicial independence

Only three of the 1,000+ comments collected by the Senate committee were in favor of the plans to gerrymander court districts and eliminate judicial elections

RALEIGH — It’s no wonder lawmakers took so long to respond to Progress North Carolina’s open records request for the public comments collected by the Senate Committee on Judicial Reform and Redistricting regarding legislative attempts to rig the court system for partisan gain.

Of the 1,025 comments collected by the committee between December 12 and January 9, only three were positive toward the General Assembly’s plans to gerrymander court districts and eliminate judicial elections altogether.

The rest of the comments were overwhelmingly negative, ranging from disapproval of the committee’s lack of transparency to comments arguing that a legislative body elected using unconstitutional districts shouldn’t be allowed to pass new laws at all — much less legislation making it easier for the illegitimately-elected majority to keep their stranglehold on North Carolina’s government.

“These comments show that voters overwhelmingly disapprove of lawmakers’ attempts to rig North Carolina’s court system for partisan gain,” said Gerrick Brenner, executive director of Progress North Carolina. “Unfortunately, the politicians in Raleigh have shown that they couldn’t care less about what average citizens think. Lawmakers will continue their attacks on judicial independence in order to cement their unconstitutional control of state government unless we hold them accountable.”

While some may criticize the public comments as merely anecdotal, a poll released by Progress NC this week found that an astounding 75% of voters — including 68% of independents — oppose the proposal to eliminate judicial elections and let politicians select judges instead of voters. 55% oppose the proposed constitutional amendment shortening all judicial terms to two years, and 52% oppose the General Assembly’s plan to gerrymander the court system.

Hundreds of people from as far away as Asheville, Charlotte, and New Bern gathered in Raleigh on Wednesday for the Fair Courts Day of Action, telling lawmakers that these partisan attacks on the courts won’t be tolerated. While the General Assembly didn’t have the votes to ram through their court-rigging proposals during Wednesday’s special session, a new committee on “judicial reform” will meet at 1:00pm Thursday to take up the proposals once again.

The full collection of public comments may be viewed at this URL. Here is a selection of comments collected by the committee:

“Our courts need more independence and less partisanship, not the other way around. If our state legislature appoints judges instead of the voters, the politicians will cherry-pick judges who tilt the scales based on political ideology, not fairness.” -Dylan C.

“This is the same kind of backroom dealing we continue to see our lawmakers in Raleigh using. The most unconstitutional legislation in North Carolina has been enacted in this same way, and fortunately, our courts have struck down much of it. Lawmakers want to stop that.” -Louis L.

“The court system should be free from partisan pressures. Please do not corrupt our judiciary with partisanship and gerrymandering. Judges should be selected based on their qualifications, not party affiliation.” -David G.

“Partisanship has no place in the judiciary. Leave politics out of our courts. A federal panel has already found NCGA gerrymandering unconstitutional and this is another way to shape the districts to the Republicans’ favor. This is not the right thing for the citizens of NC. Vote against Judicial Reform and Redistricting.” -Gwen W.

“Why the secrecy, speed, and lack of input? As a concerned citizen, I demand that any change be done transparently and with opportunities for input at each stage.” -Rebecca C.

“If you perceive bias in the present judiciary, the solution is most emphatically not a system to replace a present bias with one more to your liking.” -Rick K.

“A NC General Assembly elected to office primarily as a result of heavily gerrymandered districts — so gerrymandered in fact that the drawn districts have been declared unconstitutional by the SCOTUS — has no business tampering with NC’s judicial districts or changing the established process by which our judges are selected.” -Edward B.

“Please think carefully about the aftermath of racial bias in defining voting districts. In this particular case, heavily African-American areas are likely to suffer an overburdened court system as fewer judges are elected from urban and rural districts with a higher percentage of residents of color.” -K.S.

“Stop doing things in the dark—we need to have opportunities for the public to review and weigh in on issues so vital to our democracy and democratic values.” -Nancy G.

“Judicial selection must be open for public scrutiny, and not politicized! Do not weaken our courts!” -Mary L.