4. Protecting the State’s Judiciary
Question as it will appear on the ballot:
Constitutional amendment to change the process for filling judicial vacancies that occur between judicial elections from a process in which the Governor has sole appointment power to a process in which the people of the State nominate individuals to fill vacancies by way of a commission comprised of appointees made by the judicial, executive, and legislative branches charged with making recommendations to the legislature as to which nominees are deemed qualified; then the legislature will recommend nominees to the Governor via legislative action not subject to gubernatorial veto; and the Governor will appoint judges from among these nominees.
[ ] For [ ] Against
North Carolina currently elects its judges, but when a judge is not able to complete his or her term, the Governor has sole authority to fill that vacancy on the court until the next election. The proposed amendment would end this system of political patronage, which is one of exclusive and preferential treatment, to an inclusive system of filling judicial vacancies based on a nominee’s merit.
If the amendment passes, the following would take place for filling empty judicial seats:
- The people of the state may nominate candidates for consideration.
- A Nonpartisan Judicial Merit Commission is established, appointed by the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, the Governor and the General Assembly, for the purpose of evaluating each nominees’ qualifications, rating them based on their merits, and submitting a review of them to the General Assembly.
- The General Assembly would consider the nominees submitted by the Commission according to its findings and choose at least two nominees to be sent to the Governor for consideration.
- The Governor would then appoint to the vacancy on the court from the two nominees the one he or she believes would serve best.
- The appointed judge would have to run for election to the seat at the next election in order to continue holding it.
Opponents of this amendment argue that it presents a breach in the separation of powers between the Executive and Legislative branches, stripping the Governor of appointment powers and granting them to the General Assembly. They say it is a “power grab” – overreach by the Legislature that bestows more influence to special interests and politicians. They contend it would unleash the possibility for manipulations and cronyism on the courts, and even partisan court packing.
Proponents of this amendment contend it would provide a needed change for filling judicial vacancies from one of political patronage, where individuals are given appointments as a reward for their electoral support, to one based in greater transparency and the merits of the judicial nominee. Proponents note that previous Governors have filled judicial vacancies with their political supporters during their very last days in office. When appointments to fill judicial vacancies occur between elections and have been known to account for approximately 40% of the judges seated, a more inclusive and merit-based process is desperately needed.
Christian Action League Position:
The Christian Action League believes that any process for the selection of Judges should be the one closest to the people. Power vested in one individual with no checks is a recipe for power’s abuse. Power works best when it is shared.
The Scriptures command, “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor “(Lev. 19:15). This command is one of the most important in the Bible dealing with civil government. If those appointed to judge are not to show partiality in the way they render their judgments, neither should the means for appointing judges show partiality in the way they are appointed. The current system, which confers all authority in the Governor, provides for a “jaundiced eye” and should be changed. The proposed constitutional amendment would work to protect the judiciary’s requirement to be impartial. The selection of judges to fill vacancies would be based on the qualifications and excellence of the nominee. Moreover, the process engages the public in the selection of judges, and has checks and balances that include in some manner all three branches of government, the Judiciary, the Legislative, and the Executive.
Therefore, the Christian Action League supports this amendment.