A coalition calling itself Fair Courts NC just finished touring the state to bring awareness to the dangers partisanship poses in North Carolina’s judicial system. They recently held press conferences in Greenville, Fayetteville and Wilmington, where members spoke on their concerns.
“We need fair, impartial and independent courts,” explained Melisa Price Kromm, with North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections, at a press conference in Greenville. “They don’t wear red robes or blue robes, they wear black robes because they’re there to uphold the rule of law,” said Kromm.
Joined by spokespersons from the ACLU and the NC Council of Churches the speakers highlighted recent actions by Chief Justice Paul Newby that should raise concerns for all North Carolinians. According to the group’s website, Justice Newby replaced the head of the Judicial Standards Commission, which provides ethical guidance to judges. And, Associate Supreme Court Justice Phil Berger Jr., a Newby recruit, has refused to recuse from cases involving his father, state Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger Sr., including cases challenging Berger Sr.‘s gerrymandered hold on power.
The coalition is suggesting three reforms to the state’s judicial system, “First, do not make judges run in partisan elections. You can do this by lowering ballot thresholds so judges can run as independent. Or we can go back to non-partisan, judicial elections,” Price Kromm explained.
“Second, not allowing judges to be involved politically, such as endorsing candidates. And third, what they call recusal reform – meaning reform to the way things like conflicts of interest are handled. Doing these things, supporters said, will help achieve fairness”
“Not everybody who wants to do right by people in the legal system may have deep pockets or maybe have those affiliations or might not be in the crowds of the political forces,” explained Arlecia Simmons with the NC Council of Churches.