October 19, 2017

Why do voters want to reform the way we pick our judges?

Because they understand the warnings of John Roberts about the proper role of a judge:

“Judges and justices are servants of the law, not the other way around. They are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules, they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see an umpire. Judges have to have the humility to recognize that they operate in a system of precedent, shaped by other judges equally striving to live up to the judicial oath.”

The Chief Justice was right. But if America’s pastime resembled America’s judiciary today, umpires would be belting home runs and coming out of the bullpen in next week’s World Series. Instead of calling balls and strikes, judges are increasingly controlling everything – from guns to teacher tenure to district lines to voter ID. And that’s just how Governor Cooper wants it, with no governing power and no penchant for moderation or negotiation.

The public, though, rightly fears unchecked judicial power. The clear majority of North Carolina voters (58%-36%) want to elect their judicial rulers every two years, according to a poll conducted by the Carolina Partnership for Reform. Civitas found even higher support: 63% support, 24% oppose.

Some legislators are trying to give the people a voice, by letting them vote on a Constitutional Amendment to elect judges every two years. Other reformers have floated a rigorous, merit-selection process similar to the federal model, where elected representatives confirm or make appointments.

So where does Governor Cooper stand?

Against the 58% who want to elect judges every two years. And apparently against merit selection, now that a conservative reform majority is in the legislature. State Senator Roy Cooper championed a system that gave a Democratic Governor and a Democrat-run General Assembly power to pick judges.

So neither elections nor merit selection will work for Cooper. Is the governor afraid someone will start calling his pitches, instead of giving his political agenda relief in the bottom of the 9th?