Letters to the Editor

2/5 Letters: A brief modern history of ‘Republican court-packing’ in N.C.

Stop blocking judges for ideological reasons” (Jan. 21) contains much to recommend it. We all should agree that well-qualified judicial nominees, regardless of party affiliation, deserve full and fair consideration by the bodies charged with confirming their qualifications. The judge also correctly condemns the radical partisanship that last year saw Merrick Garland, a well-qualified Obama Supreme Court nominee, denied even a hearing by the Republican-controlled US Senate.

However, the depth of Orr’s convictions comes into question with his advocacy of Tom Farr, a longtime friend and “honorable person,” who has been nominated by President Trump to become a federal district judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina, a position for which, as Orr admits, President Obama put forward two nominees who were both denied confirmation hearings by the same Republican-controlled US Senate.

Where Orr gets it wrong is in not placing Farr’s nomination into the context of his party’s long-time strategy of “packing” courts at all levels with right-wing ideologues. In order to assure Trump Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s elevation to the court (to what we might now term the “Merrick Garland seat”), US Senate Republicans changed the long-standing requirement of 60 “yes” votes for confirmation to a requirement of only a simple majority (51 votes). It should be noted that there were 52 Republican senators at the time of the eventual confirming vote.

With Neil Gorsuch’s usurpation of what was rightfully a Democratic appointee’s seat on the US Supreme Court, NC’s Republican legislature has been emboldened to “go over the head” of federal courts – most recently when a three-judge bipartisan panel ruled that NC’s congressional districts had been unconstitutionally gerrymandered – and petition a now clearly conservative-leaning Supreme Court that, in the Citizens United case, essentially ruled that companies are people and that dollars equal votes.

Other examples of Republican court-packing? In 2016, the son of Republican Phil Berger, Speaker of the NC House of Representatives, announced his candidacy for a seat on the NC Court of Appeals. Shortly thereafter, Republicans introduced NC Senate Bill 667, and passed it along party lines. This bill requires that candidates be listed alphabetically on the ballot by last name rather than, as was previous law, the incumbent’s name’s being listed first. The outcome: Phil Berger, Jr. defeated incumbent and Democrat Linda Stephens by one-half of one percent of the vote.

We currently have Republicans advocating for making state judicial elections partisan; that is, listing each candidate’s party on the ballot. In the end, Judge Orr has advanced the easy side of the argument, easy because his party has already violated the norms to its advantage.

A Senate vote to approve the elevation Tom Farr to the federal bench will only increase this advantage. Were Orr really serious about a return to judicial fairness, he would, perhaps, have suggested that his party ask Gorsuch to resign from the Supreme Court, abide by the decisions of the current federal courts rather than attempting to continually undermine them, and, further, ask Tom Farr to remove his name from consideration for the open seat in the Eastern District of North Carolina.

William Bolick


Trump’s ‘progress’

J. Peder Zane’s column “Trump is achieving; don’t get in his way” (Jan. 31) claims we shouldn’t obstruct Trump’s progress. His claim that more drilling is needed ignores the fact that we already have plenty of shale oil, and are in fact negating Saudi Arabia’s efforts.

Waxing tough on immigration discourages talented immigrants and ruins our international image and influence while purportedly reducing immigrant crime rates that are in fact lower than our citizens’. Zane is correct in saying that the nuclear deal fails to discourage terrorism – it was never intended to do so. There’s virtue in getting what you can in a treaty rather than in failing when insisting on the unreachable.

Recognizing Jerusalem was some signature event – it ruined any chance, however small, of a peace treaty, and angered our non-Israeli allies. Trump has also fostered a great deal of doubt in our institutions by belittling them, flouting all norms and wandering erratically about the landscape. Trump lies, does not understand the constraints of democracy and encourages division, distrust and enmity.

Steve Bravy