Subtlety is not the strong suit of Republicans in the General Assembly. Virtually every action they’ve taken with regard to redistricting is clearly motivated to skew elections for legislators, members of Congress and now judges in favor of Republicans. Such is their arrogance since taking power in 2011 that they don’t even seem to care anymore when courts and experts decry the irresponsibility of their actions.
Doesn’t matter, they say in effect. We’re in charge. And we’re going to see to it that we stay in charge, period.
It’s an affront to the people, whom they apparently do not trust. And it’s virtually an admission that Republicans can’t win a fair race – a ridiculous line of logic, since they took over the General Assembly fair and square in the 2010 elections.
Now Republicans are seeking to redraw election districts for judges and district attorneys in a way that will favor Republicans. One of those ploys: divide the larger urban districts such as Mecklenburg, Wake, Forsyth, Guilford and Buncombe counties so that judicial candidates wouldn’t have to run in countywide races. Advantage: Republicans, who could dilute the influence of cities in the elections, since cities tend to go Democratic.
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Never mind that the resulting districts wouldn’t best serve the people. Given the goofy legislative districts Republicans have drawn – repudiated by no less than the U.S. Supreme Court – it was utterly predictable they’d start to mess with judicial districts and those for district attorneys, which seem to be working fine.
Rep. Justin Burr of rural Stanly County has been pushing the judicial redistricting for years, and now he’s got a Republican majority ready to support him. He and other Republicans already have made all judicial races partisan, a horrendous mistake. Judges are supposed to be nonpartisan, certainly, in their rulings, and keeping their campaigns nonpartisan at least gave the races some credibility with the public as choices based on experience and skill rather than allegiance with a party.
Nonpartisan races also kept judges from feeling an obligation to take purely political stands that could come back to haunt them if, say, their party backed a certain stance on the death penalty, or sentencing reform or other partisan issues. Keeping the races nonpartisan also tamped down fund-raising, at least a little.
The Courts Commission, a 30-member group established in the 1960s to review all proposed changes to the judicial system and to advise the General Assembly on such matters, is opposed to judicial redistricting, or at least to approving it anytime soon. (Rep. Burr is among those who once pushed a bill that in effect would have abolished the commission.) The commission’s membership is bipartisan, and the theme behind the arguments of those most strongly opposed to redistricting seemed to be: There is not a problem with the current districts and therefore there is no reason to change them.
Said Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Gale M. Adams: “Why can’t we have a nonpartisan, impartial commission and study the impact that it has?”
Why, indeed? Unfortunately, the answer to the judge’s question is: If that commission found a negative impact and opposed change, Republican legislators wouldn’t get their way. And these days, they always want to get their way.