Source: The News & Observer
Last week the North Carolina Supreme Court made the extremely rare move of rehearing two cases they decided just a few months earlier.
If you’re wondering what new information came to light that made the court take such a drastic measure then you’ll be extremely surprised to see the answer, which is “nothing.”
Nothing at all has changed about the two voting rights cases – Harper v. Hall and Holmes v. Moore, in which the decisions overturned unconstitutional state Senate maps and the state’s unconstitutional voter ID law, respectively.
The only thing that has changed since those decisions were made in late 2022? The state Supreme Court is no longer a 4-3 Democratic majority court and is instead a 5-2 Republican majority court.
The court changing political control is not considered a valid reason for rehearing a case and the Republican lawmakers who requested the court rehear the cases did not provide any compelling evidence as part of their request.
North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls, a Democrat, wrote that the decision to rehear Harper v. Hall was a “radical break with 205 years of history.” Justice Michael Morgan, also a Democrat, wrote that the GOP’s arguments for rehearing Holmes v. Moore did not meet the Supreme Court’s “historically and purposely high standards” for rehearing a case.
As The News & Observer opinion columnist Ned Barnett wrote earlier this month, “[a]n overtly partisan state Supreme Court will have profound effects on North Carolina” and highlighted some of those issues, including public school funding, abortion restrictions, and gerrymandered districts “that could lock in Republican control of the state legislature and push out three or more of the state’s Democratic U.S. House members.”
Barnett suggested that the politicization of the court is “almost impossible” to be countered because North Carolina has no way for voters to recall judges, lawyers “don’t want to antagonize judges,” the commission that oversees the Code of Judicial Conduct is controlled by a Republican, and the current right-wing U.S. Supreme Court has already decided that state courts should handle gerrymandering issues.
In addition to all that, the North Carolina Supreme Court will have a Republican majority until at least 2028 due to the justices’ eight-year terms.
According to Barnett, the “ultimate cure would be to appoint judges through a nonpartisan process,” like North Carolina used to have.
Democratic state House members Joe John (Wake), Marcia Morey (Durham) and Abe Jones (Wake) – who are all former judges – have introduced House Bill 68, which calls for a return to nonpartisan judicial elections and would allow public funding of judicial candidates.
With Republicans in control of the legislature, HB 68 is unlikely to get a vote or even a hearing.
Barnett ended his article with some advice – “Defenders of impartial courts have nothing left but their voice and they should use it.”