‘Judges Don’t Wear Red Robes Or Blue Robes’: Advocates Fight For Fair And Non-Partisan Courts

Source: Greensboro News & Record

Over the last month, the Fair Courts NC coalition, a coalition of pro-democracy nonprofits in North Carolina, toured the state to draw attention to the destructive role partisanship has played on state courts in the last decade and to call for judicial reform.

At a press conference in Greensboro the group called on lawmakers to provide crucial reforms in the following areas:

  • Restoring judicial elections as nonpartisan or allowing candidates to run as independent by lower-ballot access thresholds.
  • Banning judges from partisan political activity — like endorsing and fundraising for other candidates — when they are not on the ballot.
  • Establishing clear ethics rules that would ban judges from hearing cases involving friends and family members.

Melissa Price Kromm, the executive director of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections, shared examples of the problem with partisanship in courts saying, “Justices Newby and Phil Berger Jr. have repeatedly involved themselves in political activities, even though Justice Burger isn’t even on the ballot again until 2028 and Justice Newby faces mandatory retirement before the end of his current term,”

The Fair Courts NC’s website also notes that Berger Jr. has refused to recuse himself from cases involving his father, state Senate leader Phil Berger Sr., a move that seems to be a clear conflict of interest.

In a poll last year, a majority of North Carolina voters agreed that it is our courts’ responsibility to keep a check on unfair elections practices like partisan gerrymandering and that judges should recuse themselves in cases involving family members, things the court can’t do effectively when partisan politics begins to dictate decisions from the bench.

“When one branch goes too far, the others keep things balanced,” said NC Council of Churches Executive Director, Jennifer Copeland. “Think of a three-legged stool that cannot balance if one of the legs is missing.

With politics becoming more and more divisive our state simply must have impartial judges who are beholden only to the rule of law and not to their party leaders. North Carolina voters have the opportunity to take their concerns for fair courts to the ballot box this November.

“The fact is, judges don’t wear red robes or blue robes,” Price Kromm said. “They wear black robes because they are there to uphold the rule of law.”

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