Perdue Poised to Violate Her Order
If Governor Perdue stays on her current course, you will find her picture beside the word “hypocrite” in any dictionary. Currently, she is poised to violate her own Executive Order Number 86 that deals with judicial appointments.
The lame-duck and soon to be ex-governor claimed in her executive order that “a fair, impartial, independent, highly qualified, and diverse judiciary is essential to ensuring justice….” This statement is true and well-reasoned. She went on to write, “It is my belief that the state of North Carolina can best achieve this goal by establishing a judicial screening commission….” These words are now coming back to haunt this partisan, career politician.
Justice Appointment Quandary
A recent announcement by Justice Patricia A. Timmons-Goodson that she will retire from the North Carolina Supreme Court on December 17 has placed the Perdue Administration into its last quandary. If she follows her own executive order, the Judicial Nominating Commission that she created has already told her that it will have no nominees ready for appointment before she leaves office.
This means that her successor, Republican Governor-Elect Pat McCrory, will have the opportunity to appoint a replacement for Timmons-Goodson, the outgoing liberal Democrat Supreme Court justice. McCrory is not bound by Perdue’s executive order and should not be expected to abide by it. If this scenario takes place, the most likely result would be the appointment of a conservative to the high court. However, Perdue could violate her own order and make the appointment herself. If you are a gambler, don’t put two cents on the side that Perdue will obey Executive Order Number 86 and not appoint a left-leaning Democrat to the Supreme Court.
Important History Lesson
A short history lesson is necessary to understand how we arrived at this point. Article IV, Section 16 of the NC Constitution requires that judges and justices “shall be elected by the qualified voters.” These contests were partisan until a curious thing started occurring in the 1990s — Republicans began winning judicial races. Once Democrats saw that voters favored conservatives on their courts, the Democrat-controlled General Assembly quickly made the races “nonpartisan.” This way, voters wouldn’t know the party affiliation of judicial candidates and Democrats could continue to get elected. With their status quo maintained for the most part, Democrats let things be.
Move forward to 2010, when Republicans unexpectedly won both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time in well over a century. All of a sudden, the nonpartisan election of judicial officials was not enough. The public was apparently deemed too unworthy or ignorant to elect judges and justices. Now, Democrats demanded that special commissions be instituted to nominate judicial officials. Republicans, far from jumping on the Democrat bandwagon, filed legislation and actually began to call for going back to the original way of electing judges by political party. These actions prompted Perdue to establish her soon-to-be infamous Executive Order Number 86.
Choice Will Show Hypocrisy
In the end, Perdue can do what she desires and violate her own executive order. She is the Governor until January 5. However, there will be consequences to her actions. By appointing a justice without going through the process she established, she will highlight the final and worst act of hypocrisy on the part of Democrats when it comes to the selection of judicial officials.
Power to the People
Politics is never pretty. Everyone wants good judges and justices, free from partisanship, but taking the vote from the people, setting up selection commissions and removing labels is not the answer. The drafters of our Constitution deserve more credit than the Democrats are giving them. As our state’s founding document, revised in 1971, acknowledges, “All political power is vested in and derived from the people; all government of right originates from the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole.”
If we believe this lofty statement, what’s so bad about continuing to give the people the right to choose their officials in the judicial branch of government? To quote Winston Churchill, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried.”
Thom Goolsby is a state senator, practicing attorney and law professor. He is senate co-chair of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety.