Gavel Grab

N.C. Legislators’ Attacks on Judicial Selection Laws are Questioned

Existing judicial selection laws continue to come under attack in North Carolina. The trend has led critics to question whether changes to the law would cause fair and impartial courts to become more susceptible to influence by special interests, or to a public perception of unfairness.

The legislature voted to give the governor more authority and let him appoint whomever he chooses for District Court judgeships, eliminating a requirement that such vacancies must be filled from lists of candidates chosen by the local bar (see Gavel Grab). Blogging in the  News & Record, Doug Clark wrote:

“Critics of the current system say, in effect, that you can’t trust lawyers to recommend judges. I don’t know about you, but I trust them come election time. I value the opinions of lawyers. Who is better informed about judges and potential judges?”

Hopefully the governor wants to select a judge “who is fair and knows the law,” Clark continued. “But, as a politician, he or she may want to reward a political supporter with a nice job. Creating that opportunity is potentially a step backward for fair administration of the law.”

The budget bill passed by legislators last week ends public financing of appellate judicial elections, a program that Justice at Stake and other groups have supported preserving.  A comprehensive election reform bill passed by the legislature would formally repeal the law authorizing public financing of judicial elections. In the Asheville Citizen-Times, an editorial was headlined, “‘Integrity’ absent from election bill.”

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