Mark Martin, chief justice of the state Supreme Court, has some explaining to do, but so far he hasn’t said why his court made a fundamental change to prevent possible deadlocks after one of the court’s seven members recuses himself or herself.
Last month, the clerk of the state Supreme Court signed and entered a change in procedure that gave the court’s chief justice the authority to call in a retired justice after a sitting justice recuses himself or herself from a case. On Friday, the clerk entered another order reversing the change. No explanation was given.
It was a cloaked and troubling sequence that looks like an effort to further tilt a court that has become more politicized. Legal observers objected to the initial change because it would allow an unelected judge pulled from a secret list to break a deadlock. It also raised an obvious question about how the chief justice would know before a case is heard that the six remaining justices would split evenly.
The News & Observer asked the court to release any email or documents related to the change, but court officials declined the request saying such records are not public, though they cited no provision of the law to support their claim.
Chief Justice Martin’s first responsibility is to maintain the court’s proceedings in a way that preserves public confidence that its decisions are based on the law, not partisanship. Martin owes the public an explanation of this change and its reversal. But if he chooses to remain silent, that will say something, too.