North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Douglas McCullough, a Republican, admirably resigned his position Monday in advance of mandatory retirement, which gave Gov. Roy Cooper the opportunity to appoint his successor, John Arrowood, a Democrat. McCullough’s action was an honorable step, befitting someone of integrity who placed the court’s well-being first. It came as legislative Republicans attempt to reduce the court’s size for the clear purpose of denying Cooper the right to replace retiring Republicans with Democrats.
The judiciary ought to be above politics, concerned only with fairness and the best interests of the public and the efficient and fair administration of justice.
Republicans are trying to politicize the state’s courts as much as they can, from making judicial races partisan to now cutting the size of the state Court of Appeals from 15 judges to 12. GOP leaders are doing that with not-so-secret smirks. Because though they claim the reduction is because of a lighter work load on the court, the real reason is that three judgeships held by Republicans (including McCullough’s) will be vacated due to mandatory retirements.
Republicans, simply put, don’t want Cooper to replace those judges with Democrats — just as they curbed some of his appointive power — so they’re prepared to step in and change the state’s judicial system for purely partisan reasons.
Four people who object happen to be three Democrats and one Republican who are former chief justices of the state Supreme Court. All of them are respected in the legal community. Burley Mitchell, James Exum, Sarah Parker and I. Beverly Lake have penned a letter to legislative leaders complaining about the downsizing. They say the reduction in work is negligible, and that last year, the appeals court rendered decisions in more than 1,500 cases and ruled on 4,456 motions.
The legislation has passed. Cooper vetoed it. The retired jurists are hoping that a veto-proof Republican majority will not override the governor, which is likely a vain hope but one worth having.
Republicans also want to eliminate emergency judges except for business court. Again, this is a partisan maneuver and it’s bad for the system — and also opposed by these former chief justices.
GOP leaders seem to take delight in slapping at Cooper every chance they get, but their actions will do harm to justice itself.
In weakening the judicial system, and that’s what cutting the number of appeals judges and emergency judges would do, Republican lawmakers are hurting their state and their own constituents.