We’re on-site, live-blogging commentary and background on the North Carolina General Assembly’s history-making coup d’état session, on this page. Join us as we watch the end of representative democracy in North Carolina unfold before Tar Heels’ horrified eyes.
The Court’s Own Data Answers ‘No’
Legislators from across North Carolina are headed back to Raleigh this week for an emergency session of the state’s General Assembly, called by outgoing Governor Pat McCrory (R), to address Hurricane Matthew recovery and “for the purpose of addressing any other matters the General Assembly elects to consider.” Speculation is mounting that one such “other matter” its Republican super-majority may have on their Christmas list is an attempt to pack the state Supreme Court by expanding its bench from seven sitting justices to nine – with those two new seats to be filled with McCrory appointees on his way out the door.
General Assembly Republicans, content to test the water for now, won’t confirm or deny the possibility of such a move.
“I’ve heard the same rumors you have,” state Rep. Robert Reives (D) told Insightus last week regarding the upcoming special session’s goals. “The governor’s proclamation doesn’t call for [supreme court expansion] to be considered, but it certainly doesn’t preclude it either.”
The gambit, first proposed by the ultra-conservative John Locke Foundation (which is bankrolled by McCrory’s chief backer, Art Pope) as a means to “counteract” incumbent justice Bob Edmunds (R) surprise loss to African American jurist Mike Morgan (D), would insure continued Republican dominance over the court. Otherwise, the court will flip to a 4-to-3 Democratic majority when Morgan is sworn in on January 1st.
In an election year marred by a Republican-driven voter suppression law found by a federal court to “target African Americans with almost surgical precision,” a Republican-engineered early voting plan that slashed the number of polling places in some key Democratic- and African American-rich counties, and a tsunami of frivolous (and ultimately rejected) election protests filed by GOP attorneys seeking to nullify the election’s results, it would be naive to doubt GOP lawmakers’ hearty appetite for such a last-ditch effort to cling to power.
Yet even in today’s increasingly ethics-free political climate, Senate President pro tem Phil Berger (R) and his minions will need a high-minded cover story to cloak their impending putsch. The only possible one will be to claim that the state’s highest court is simply overwhelmed with the people’s business, thus requiring its expansion. But friends of democracy are already closing the door on that argument. The non-partisan North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice has urged the General Assembly “to tie the number of judges and justices on a given court [only] to the workload,” warning that “any other consideration threatens public trust and confidence.” And widely respected ex-Justice Robert Orr (R) has stated plainly that GOP lawmakers’ “only reason to [expand the court] would be for partisan advantage.”
Insightus has taken a look at authoritative data regarding the state Supreme Court’s workload. And what we’ve found – in data provided by the court itself – fully supports Justice Orr’s conclusion.
L’état, c’est moi
We’re on-site, live-blogging commentary and background on the Board’s proceedings, on this page, beginning at 1:30 PM EST today.