Politics & Government

A Koch-backed group comes out against a GOP-written constitutional amendment

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North Carolina constitutional amendments

Coverage from The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun of the constitutional amendments you’ll vote on in the November 2018 elections.

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The North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity — one of the most prominent political organizations in the country — is coming out against a Republican effort to limit governors’ power to appoint judges.

The group started by the billionaire Koch brothers planned to launch what it said will be a six-figure ad campaign on Monday urging people to vote against one of the six proposed constitutional amendments that the Republican-controlled General Assembly put on the November ballot.

“The amendment is nothing more than a political power grab that would grant more authority to special interests and politicians, opening the door to partisan court packing while weakening our constitutional right to select our own judges,” state director Chris McCoy said in a prepared statement. “That is bad for voters and bad for our courts.

“We’re strongly urging all North Carolinians to reject this backdoor effort that would lead to manipulation and cronyism in an institution that must remain fair, independent and impartial.”

Acknowledging the unexpected position AFP is taking, the organization said in its announcement that it will choose its political positions based on good policy.

The state chapter declined to release the specific amount of money it is putting into the campaign, but says it will buy 30-second online spots and direct mail advertising.

The amendment proposed on the general election ballot is one of two opposed by all five living former governors and six retired chief justices of the state Supreme Court.

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Opponents say it is overreach by the legislature, which has passed several laws limiting the powers of the governor. Some have warned it could lead to court-packing, in which lawmakers expand the number of judges on the Supreme Court in order to shift the partisan balance on the court.

AFP is critical of the amendment for allowing appointees to serve up to four years, instead of until the next election.

One of the proponents of the amendment, Sen. Paul Newton, a Cabarrus County Republican, told the NC Insider the current system of filling judicial vacancies needs to be reformed. He noted that previous governors have put their political supporters on the bench during their final days in office.

Newton says the proposed process would be “a much more transparent, bright light, open-door process,” The Insider reported. He said it will make the court less partisan and increase diversity.

The proposal does not have uniform support of Republican lawmakers.

What the amendment would do

Currently, the governor appoints judges if a position becomes open due to retirement or other reasons.

If a majority of voters approve it, the amendment will create a commission with up to nine members appointed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the governor and the legislature.

The commission would evaluate anyone nominated to be a judge and send recommendations to the General Assembly. The legislature would recommend at least two of the nominees for the governor to choose from. If the governor doesn’t appoint someone within 10 days, the legislature could appoint someone.

If the legislature isn’t in session, the chief justice could make the appointment temporarily, until the governor or General Assembly could act, or until the next even-numbered year election is held.

Americans for Prosperity

Ads against the judicial amendment are not the only way Americans for Prosperity is spending its money to influence North Carolina voters.

It’s also campaigning to elect U.S. Rep. Ted Budd and seven incumbent state lawmakers: Sens. Jeff Tarte, Trudy Wade, Michael Lee and Dan Bishop and Reps. Bill Brawley, John Bradford and Donny Lambeth. All are Republicans.

The group also has made a tighter cap on North Carolina income tax rates part of its agenda. Republicans placed a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would lower the cap to 7 percent from 10 percent. AFP is expected to promote the amendment but so far hasn’t announced its plans.

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