Can justice in NC still be independent? It must!

Published November 10, 2022

By Capitol Broadcasting Company

To hear state House Speaker Tim Moore and state Senate leader Phil Berger’sreaction to the election of two new justices – giving the state’s high court five Republicans and two Democrats – that's what will be the new law of the land.
But the job of the state’s courts – particularly the Supreme Court -- is not to do the bidding of the General Assembly’s leadership. It is, among other things, to make sure the General Assembly is doing the bidding of the people of North Carolina as set out in the Constitution.

It is an insult to these soon-to-be justices, and those already on the court, to assume to know how they’d vote on specific cases – especially high-profile ones such as: the status of required voter identification; legality of congressional and legislative voting district plans; restrictions on abortion; and the state’s obligation to deliver a quality public education to every child. Those are just for starters.

And what is the extent of our court’s authority and ability to compel those who are coming up short, to follow the law?

For example, the courts have repeatedly found over the last 25 years that the state has failed to meet the state Constitution’s right to provide every child with access to a quality education. Given the determination, does the court have the power to order those in state government who can remedy this failing to act to fix it?

It is an insult to the state’s Supreme Court justices – and all those in the co-equal judicial branch of government – to turn their backs on the courts.

It is the court’s job to review what the legislature or the executive branch of government does on behalf of the people of the state and determine if those actions are in accord with the state Constitution. When these other branches of government fall short, it is the job of the courts to say so and order appropriate remedies.

What kind of court is it that can make a determination and then have no authority to enforce corrective action? What kind of justice is there when there is an assumption that judges are already predisposed to certain positions or biases before even hearing arguments or determining facts?

The law is not simply what comes out of the General Assembly. It must comport to the constitutions of the United States and North Carolina. That is one of the critical reasons why we have courts.

In the not-too-distant future these new justices and other judges on the state’s court of appeals will have their integrity and independence put to the test. How will they make sure the legislative and executive branches of state government – their co-equals – follow the law?

"The Constitution is there for the purpose of putting limitations on the General Assembly regardless of which party controls it," said Robert Orr, who served on the high court from 1995 to 2004 as a Republican justice.

Will they be puppets of the partisan powers at the General Assembly?

Will they stand strong to maintain the court’s independence? They must.

The people of North Carolina expect, need and deserve nothing less.