At last week’s 74th Annual NCNAACP Convention in Raleigh, legal activists fighting against illegal North Carolina voting laws and redistricting, warned that Republican-led legislative leaders are moving steadily, especially after they commenced their second Special Session last week, to establish judicial redistricting, and also merit selection.
The warnings came as the NC House last week passed a law eliminating the 2018 primaries for all judicial seats across North Carolina. Gov. Cooper vetoed the law Monday, but Republicans plan to override the Democratic governor’s veto.
“It’s not just about Trump,” outgoing President Dr. William Barber warned those gathered for the Voter Mobilization and Registration Session Friday. “The worst stuff happening is happening in our State Capital.”
Over the strong objections of judges, attorneys and citizens statewide, the NC House passed House Bill 717 last Thursday night to redistrict all judicial officials in the State, including prosecutors.
The State Senate prefers appointing judges as opposed to judicial elections through merit selection.
Isela Gutierrez, Associate Research Director with the non-partisan, nonprofit Democracy North Carolina, charged that judicial redistricting isn’t just about getting more Republican district and Superior Court judges elected to the bench, but, just as with legislative and Congressional redistricting, lessen the influence of Black voters in overall elections.
With the passage of HB 717, was also a new judicial redistricting map that Gutierrez alleged takes resources away from large Black communities in Durham, Mecklenburg, Forsyth, Guilford, Northhampton, Granville and Robeson counties. Judges are taken from these areas, and they’re being moved to White communities.
According to Gutierrez, judges of color are being targeted.
Plus, 32 percent of all District Court judges are double-bunked, meaning that when elections are held, two judges, mostly Democrats, will have to run against each other. Fifty-three percent of Black judges are District Court judges.
And in addition, the 2018 judicial primary elections were canceled, giving both legislative houses a chance to fine tune their respective plans in time for January 2018.
But schemes to change the way judges are either elected or appointed to the bench are just the beginning,” legal activists warned. On the horizon from the Republican-led legislature, they say, is a “voter ID constitutional amendment.”
, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and lead attorney in the Covington lawsuit which overturned the 2011 unconstitutional legislative redistricting maps (she has since argued that the redrawn maps still harbor racially gerrymandered districts and should be thrown out again), warned at the NCNAACP Convention that the GOP is relentlessly pursuing more measures to gain tactical voting advantage while they still hold legislative majorities, with the voter ID constitutional amendment, “…possibly on the ballot in 2018.”
“That’s going to take some rigorous fighting because we think they are going to combine it with a bunch of other constitutional amendments…”
However, Earls warns that the voter ID amendment will be packaged with other more popular amendments on the ballot, making it difficult for people to vote against it.
“They might have a constitutional amendment that says, “Let’s get rid of the literacy clause in our State Constitution. We all like that idea. They’re going to have a “vote yes on all” campaign, and in addition to voter ID, they’re going to take away your right to vote for judges,” Attorney Earls charged.
“They want to have merit selection on the Constitution as a constitutional amendment in May, so that by 2018…November 2018, you will not be able to vote on which judge should sit in [NC Supreme Court Justice] Barbara Jackson’s seat.
Justice Jackson, who is a registered Republican elected in 2010, is up for re-election in 2018. Her term ends December 2018. If merit selection is approved, voters would only get to vote “yes” or “no” on her re-election, no other choice allowed.
Again, this method was thrown out in 2016 as being unconstitutional, but State Senate GOP leaders are hoping to figure a way around it.
Attorney Earls reminded all that it wasn’t too long ago that GOP legislative leaders plotted to gain some advantage of the State Supreme Court.
“Originally they passed a law that had appointment and retention elections, but that was declared unconstitutional, but the legislature can’t change the Constitution. So Judge Michael Morgan, a Democrat, was elected to the State Supreme Court.”
“Then they tried the court packing plan,” Earls continued. “That was pushed back against, and now they’re trying to take away our rights by having a constitutional amendment.”
“So with stealth, and step-by-step, quietly [Republican State lawmakers] are maneuvering to take away your right to vote.”