Editorials

Judiciary could be the next target for GOP redistricting

It likely was only a matter of time. State House Republicans, who’ll undoubtedly be joined by those in the Senate, are trying to rearrange the state’s judicial districts – those wherein people elect district attorneys and judges – to give themselves a partisan advantage. The move has been delayed, but a special redistricting session is likely.

Republicans previously, of course, have moved to skew legislative and congressional districts in their favor, a blatantly partisan maneuver that will likely remain in the courts (and has been repudiated by some courts) for some time. Now, this latest outrage will be certain to mire the state in more legal action.

Gov. Roy Cooper pretty much pegged this one: “This is an attempt to threaten the judiciary and rig the judiciary in their favor.” Point, game, set, match.

The Republicans already added party affiliation to Superior Court and District Court elections, figuring it would play to advertising aimed at getting voters to support “conservative” judicial candidates, which they figured the voters will identify as Republicans.

In this case, the judicial redistricting, totally unneeded, would divide some single urban districts into multiple smaller districts, the better, Republicans figure, for them to capture more judgeships for the GOP.

That’s particularly tempting for Republicans in places such as Wake and Mecklenburg counties, where they must figure they can divide and conquer more judgeships for their party.

This is preposterous, an attempt to completely politicize judicial elections. North Carolina has tried to shield such elections from partisanship, though it’s been far from successful. But at least the system didn’t turn races for judicial seats into the same as those for a district State House seat, where political parties and special interest groups pour the money in if they want to take out an incumbent, for example, not to their liking.

In the case of judgeships, it’s easy to see how a judge who made a “liberal” ruling on some civil liberties issue could in the next election be targeted by Republicans with a “law and order” candidate of their choosing.

Judges, of course, are supposed to be impartial. That’s one of the cornerstones of the entire justice system, that judges by their very definition can render fair verdicts. In trying to rig the elections, as Cooper put it, Republicans are tossing that concept out the window – simply because, with a veto-proof majority in the legislature, they can.

It’s going to be interesting to see if House Speaker Tim Moore and Phil Berger, president pro-tem of the Senate, both lawyers, will stand by this foolishness. They have a chance to exhibit a little statesmanship for once and stand for fairness and integrity in the court system above blatant partisanship.

There’s not much chance of that, unfortunately. It’s more likely this measure will sail on through, to the detriment of the court system and to the citizens of North Carolina who expect it to be fair and upright and without partisanship.

Of all the things Republicans have done since taking control of the General Assembly in 2011, this may be the ... no, we won’t say the worst. That would be tempting fate.

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