(Associated Press) The North Carolina House leader predicts redrawn election districts for trial court judges can be finalized with Senate Republicans by the end of January. But he's unsure what his colleagues think about a Senate proposal eliminating head-to-head judicial elections.
House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger appointed Thursday members of a special bipartisan joint committee tasked with recommending judicial changes to the General Assembly.
A separate Senate panel formally recommended Wednesday the House-Senate committee idea. Likely topics include judicial redistricting and a Senate proposal to replace traditional judicial elections with up-or-down retention elections for gubernatorial appointees vetted by a commission and legislators.
House Republicans already approved new judicial election maps in October. Moore says changes must be made soon because many judicial elections are set for this year. (Associated Press)
A Senate committee voted to hand off the issue of judicial redistricting and merit selection at a hearing Wednesday. Lawmakers were discussing changes to the courts in the last scheduled hearing before the legislature convenes next week. BPR recorded the meeting and posted some of the highlights from it.
A North Carolina Senate committee discussed changes to the courts Wednesday. And the committee essentially decided to punt the issue of judicial redistricting and merit selection to a joint House and Senate committee. Democrats have been critical of the moves by Republicans to draw new electoral maps for judges and for other proposed changes. They've also said the process has not been transparent. Republican Senator Ralph Hise of Spruce Pine said there have been numerous hearings about the proposed changes.
"Yet the one argument is, when you can't find anything of substance, gripe about the process."
Hise went on to dismiss the notion of taking seriously submitted public comments because many of them come from advocacy groups who encouraged them.
"It is astroturf movements that try to mimic themselves as being the opinion of the public, but I will say that I would be surprised if every legislator here has not heard from a lot of constituents that are involved in the judicial system and others that I would think much more accurately represent the public comment."
Democratic Senator Terry Van Duyn of Buncombe County said she HAS heard from constituents.
"I have spoken with several of my judges and what they asked me to share with you is that you leave Buncombe County alone and leave our district whole."
Van Duyn said Buncombe County was being split apart because it elects Democratic judges. She points to similarly-sized Republican-dominated counties that are being left alone in proposed maps. The legislature convenes for a special session next Wednesday, but because of the committee's action to pass the work on, it's unclear what steps will be taken on court changes during that session.
The Select Committee on Judicial Reform and Redistricting is expected to talk about judicial redistricting and other possible changes at its 1 pm meeting. The issue has been contentious. Democrats walked out of the last hearing in protest after Republicans refused a speaker selected by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper. Republicans say the changes are needed to fix population problems. But Van Duyn says it's obvious to her the goal is to politicize the courts.
"Both the House and the Senate are splitting Buncombe County into multiple electoral districts. There are at least 3 other counties that are just as big and have just as many, if not more judges than we do. They, in fact, though, are Republican counties and they are being left whole. So it's very clear to me that this has nothing to do with good jurisprudence and everything to do with politics."
Van Duyn said Democrats haven't been made part of the process and have been kept mostly in the dark.
You can hear the full interview with Van Duyn above, and listen to live audio of the hearing here.