A month ago, the people of North Carolina chose to elect Judge Mike Morgan, who would be part of a new progressive majority on the state Supreme Court. But the General Assembly could undermine the voters’ decision.
It is rumored that the legislature is considering a bill to add two seats to the court in this week’s emergency session. This would allow outgoing Gov. Pat McCrory to appoint two justices, preserving the conservative majority.
This court-packing scheme would overturn the voters’ decision in a fairly conducted election. It would be an insult to the voters of North Carolina.
Even though the voters chose a new governor and new state supreme court justice, the legislature could allow the lame-duck governor to pack the court.
Other states have increased the size of their supreme courts, but none of these changes were a blatant attempt to change the partisan balance on a court resulting from a recent election.
Why would the General Assembly take such a drastic step?
In 2017, the Republicans will have a super-majority that will allow them to override any vetoes by the governor. So the courts would be the only check on the legislature’s power. Packing the court in the final hour of McCrory’s administration could have long-lasting consequences on North Carolinians.
As a former member of the North Carolina Supreme Court, I understand that the role of the judicial branch sometimes requires judges to strike down laws as unconstitutional. This crucial function is threatened when legislators attack the independence of the judiciary. This court-packing plan would undermine the system of checks and balances.
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield
The writer, a Democrat, represents N.C. District 1. The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the issue.