Trial over Judicial Primary cancellation will begin in June

Which ironically is just 11 days before the postponed Judicial filing period begins:

A trial over the legality of a North Carolina law canceling primary elections this year for state appellate court judgeships is scheduled for late spring.

During a hearing Thursday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joi Peake set a June 7 trial date and other filing and evidence deadlines.

Nine days ago I penned an Op-Ed for submission to a regional newspaper, but recent (unfortunate) developments at that publication have made that submission moot. But these words need to be published, and I encourage you to take an extra few minutes to consider the following:

Cancellation of Judicial Primaries Should Deeply Concern Voters

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it should be apparent to you that a radical, multi-pronged attack on our system of justice is underway. For brevity’s sake, we’ll only be looking at a few of these elements in this discussion; there isn’t enough column space in this entire paper to cover everything that’s happening, which should be enough to chill your blood all by itself. Our courts not only serve to protect us from criminal harm, they also ensure we are being treated fairly in business and family disputes, which can be just as devastating as being robbed at gunpoint.

Needless to say, any changes to our system of justice warrant your attention, and the more radical the change, the closer you need to look.

Many of us who follow, analyze, and write about politics and policy often ask ourselves, “What are they trying to achieve? What is the end-game?” And you’re right, making such predictions is not an exact science, but it’s also not a guessing-game. We look at previous behavior, public statements, likely outcomes, etc. And we have to do this. Because once something is done, it’s a heck of a lot harder to undo. And ironically, the courts themselves end up being the last resort to undo the damage caused by unwise and self-serving lawmaking. And that very well may be one of the major drivers of the cumulative assault on the courts. But that’s a discussion for another day.

So let’s look at specifics: Last Spring, NC’s lawmakers overrode Governor Cooper’s Veto and passed a law making all of NC’s Judicial races partisan. But in a seeming contradiction, later in the year they also cancelled Judicial Primaries, which is how the two parties winnow their candidates so the best ones will meet in November. I called it a “seeming” contradiction because, on the surface, it doesn’t make sense. And their explanations to date fail to explain it, either. In order to understand why they did that, we need to step back and look at another change they are contemplating, possibly the most radical of the bunch.

It started as rumors during one of their now ubiquitous “Special” sessions in the latter weeks of 2017, but it slipped out formally during a recent court case about (you guessed it) the cancellation of Judicial Primaries. One of the General Assembly’s lawyers argued the primaries weren’t necessary because they were planning to start selecting the judges themselves anyway. That’s right, they want to take away your ability to choose your own judges via election. The judge in that case dismissed this argument as irrelevant, because such a change would require a Constitutional Amendment, which must be approved by voters in November. And now the cat is officially out of the bag, which leads me back to the “why” in canceling the Judicial Primaries.

Without those primaries to winnow the candidates, the November ballot will be a monster. Superior and District Court seats will be on that ballot, along with CoA and Supreme Court races. Screen after screen after screen of names and races to slog through, and what will be waiting for you after that exhausting journey? A question about whether you’d prefer to not have to go to such trouble in the future. Leveraging your current discomfort in an attempt to make you an active participant in your own loss of a core democratic right, the right to vote.

This probably should have been written later in the year, a week or two before the November Election, so it would be fresh in your minds. But I wanted to write it now, because those Judicial candidates should be filing for their respective races now, like all the other candidates are doing. Their absence at the various Boards of Election is not a weird coincidence or a trivial matter, it’s your wake-up call. And it’s a loud enough call that it should still be fresh in your memory nine months from now.