N.C. NAACP blasts rumored plan to stack high courtBy Cash Michaels, Peacemaker Contributor / November 23, 2016
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RALEIGH – Whatever credibility the Republican-led North Carolina Supreme Court currently has would be “totally eroded” if state GOP legislative leaders try to stack the state’s High Court to maintain a partisan advantage, warns the chairman of the N.C. NAACP’s Legal Redress Committee.
Atty. Irving Joyner, who is also a professor of law at North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham, isn’t buying published reports that Republican legislative leaders are not considering the move to offset the Election night victory of Wake Superior Court Judge Mike Morgan, a Democrat, to the N.C. Supreme Court. Given how Republicans are scrambling to prove Democratic voter fraud in over 50 counties after state Attorney General Roy Cooper’s slim apparent defeat of incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, Prof. Joyner and the rest of the N.C. NAACP have announced that they’re-gearing up for yet another legal fight in case Republican lawmakers not only attempt to stack the court with two appointees, but also try to decide the governor’s race.
“Public support for our court system is predicated on the faith and truth of the people that our justice system is fair, unbiased and impartial,” Chairman Joyner said. “That faith has been severely tested and undermined over the past ten years due to obvious political decisions which the [state] Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals have issued. The tepid support which the court system presently enjoys will be totally eroded if the Republican Legislature moves forward with a plan to add two political appointees to the composition of the Supreme Court in response to the election of Justice [-elect] Michael Morgan.”
Morgan handily defeated incumbent Republican Justice Robert Edmunds on election night, thus giving the court a 4-3 Democratic majority when it reconvenes for another term. But it wasn’t long before press reports circulated that Republican lawmakers would use Gov. McCrory’s special session on Hurricane Matthew disaster relief planned for December to also add two more appointees to the state Supreme Court, thus changing it to 6-5 Republican, even though the court is supposed to be nonpartisan.
“The concern is, in light of the fact that the voters have stated by their votes Tuesday that they reject the politicalization of our North Carolina Supreme Court, [they] do not want the justices to have any political leanings, and the voters want to make sure that our highest court is perceived as being fair and impartial in every decision,” Morgan said.
N.C. NAACP Pres. Rev. William Barber, promising a legal fight, echoed Justice-elect Morgan’s concern, saying that adding the two court-appointees would be “wrong because it is a form of partisan scheming designed to go around the people, and a vote of the people.”
With the McCrory-Cooper gubernatorial race still in unofficial limbo at press time Tuesday, there is mounting concern that the ultimate winner will be chosen by the Republican-led N.C. General Assembly. No one has denied that as a possibility, even though GOP leaders have denied contemplating expanding the state Supreme Court to undermine the Morgan victory.
“We have never really talked about it at all,” Republican Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County and chairman of the House Rules Committee, told reporters last week. Senate President Pro tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said there had been “no [Republican Senate] caucus discussions” about the matter.
But Atty. Joyner, based on previous actions by Republican lawmakers who have held surprise votes on issues without public hearings or notice in the recent past, isn’t buying their denials.
“These additions or the ill-advised effort to pack the court with Republicans will be seen for what it is: a political scheme to over-rule the vote of the voters which elected, by a large margin, Justice Morgan as the pivotal swing vote on a politically evenly divided court,” the N.C. NAACP Legal Redress Committee chairman said.
“Our courts should always enjoy the highest level of support from citizens because it is fair, unbiased, impartial and worthy of respect. Adding two political appointees to the court, as it is presently constituted, would totally destroy the remaining faith that African Americans and other racial minorities might have in the Courts of this State.”