State’s High Court Continues to Delegitimize Itself

March 23, 2022

The North Carolina Supreme Court appears bent on delegitimizing itself. For the second time this month, the high court’s Democratic majority gutted regular legal procedure and ordered the Republican-majority N.C. Court of Appeals out of contentious political cases.

Regular legal procedure requires appeals of a trial court’s ruling to go to the Court of Appeals, and then to the Supreme Court.

But in two cases – one challenging voter ID and the other involving education funding (“Leandro”) – the Supreme Court ordered parties to ignore the Republican-majority Court of Appeals and bring their cases directly to the Democrat-controlled Supreme Court.

The highly unusual maneuvering appears designed to give Supreme Court Democrats the chance to impose their political will before the November elections, when observers expect control of the court to switch to Republicans.

Media coverage largely ignored this power play and focused instead on Chief Justice Paul Newby naming a Republican (but Cooper-appointed) judge to the Leandro case in the lower court. The move came after Judge David Lee made basic errors in handling the case, including a bizarre conclusion that the General Assembly had always been a party to the proceedings even though their request to intervene was rejected a decade ago.

There’s a lot of talk among so-called “good government” advocates about the danger of abandoning democratic norms and the rule of law. Yet those same people are silent as their allies on the Supreme Court abandon legal procedure to usurp the power to decide charged cases before the November elections.

There may be some occasions when it is legally proper to expedite a case directly to the high court. Disliking the political makeup of the Court of Appeals is not among them, nor is concern for who might win the next election.

Abandoning legal procedure to render political decisions on heated cases right before an election delegitimizes a Supreme Court still reeling from the conflict-riddled conclusion to this year’s redistricting litigation.