N&O columnist blasts the blatant and inappropriate partisanship of Justice Phil Berger Jr.

Published May 12, 2022

By Rob Schofield

In case you missed it, be sure to check out this morning’s on-the-mark column by veteran journalist and News & Observer columnist Ned Barnett: “NC Supreme Court justice criticizes a fellow GOP judge for not weighing party in hiring.” As Barnett explains in sobering detail, the ongoing descent of North Carolina’s judiciary into blatant and inappropriate partisanship continues apace, thanks in no small measure to the “leadership” of a judge who’s seldom, if ever, pretended to be anything other than a political creature: Supreme Court Justice Phil Berger, Jr. — the son of state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, Sr.

As Barnett explains:

The Republican justice and son of the Republican leader of the state Senate recently suggested that the appellate courts should be a kind of Tammany Hall, where jobs are awarded and judicial candidates are selected based not on qualifications, but party loyalty.

Responding to an individual’s Facebook query to him about the Republican Court of Appeals primary between chief Court of Appeals Judge Donna Stroud and District Court Judge Beth Freshwater Smith, Berger explained why he is supporting Stroud’s challenger.

First, Barnett notes,  Berger touted several predictable attributes related to being a “solid conservative.” Then, however, Junior quickly got down to what he thinks should really make the difference in such matters:

Stroud had hired the “dems candidate” for clerk of the Court of Appeals and “shut out qualified Republicans, including one of my former clerks, who also worked with 2 other GOP judges.”

…Berger blamed Stroud for the miscarriage of patronage. “Donna whipped the votes and shut out qualified GOP candidates. Some who worked for years in GOP politics,” he said.

In other words: A Republican chief judge didn’t weigh party affiliation in hiring for a nonpartisan administrative post. Throw her out.

Barnett also reports Judge Stroud’s rightful ire at Berger Jr.’s actions:

Stroud said Berger and his allies on the Court of Appeals have exposed personnel information down to the level of revealing the results of confidential votes on a job applicant. She said in a statement: “Neither I nor any other judge should disclose details of this confidential process outside the Court of Appeals.”

Of course, none of this comes as much of a surprise from Berger, Jr. — a politician/judge whose entire career is attributable to his daddy’s patronage and who, by comparison, makes Clarence Thomas look like a sober and rigorously nonpartisan statesman.

But that doesn’t prevent Berger’s actions from constituting yet another destructive black mark against the judiciary. He may be likely, as Barnett notes, to escape any immediate consequences from the Republican-appointed Judicial Standards Commission, but one can still cling to hope that, at some point, with enough public condemnation, young Berger will grow weary of serving as an almost constant embarrassment to his chosen profession.

Click here to read Barnett’s entire column.