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The Daily Tar Heel

Koch brothers, local leaders speak out against judicial vacancy amendment


A handful of students — including first-years Becca Brandes, Molly Cartwright and Helen Hill — spelled it out for their peers in front of Polk Place.

Local leaders in opposition to the six constitutional amendments up for referendum during the midterm elections found support from a surprising source — the N.C. chapter of the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity announced on Oct. 15 their intention to campaign against the judicial vacancy amendment.  

Americans for Prosperity, founded by brothers David and Charles Koch, is known for its influence and support of conservative and libertarian ideals in American politics. 

“Americans for Prosperity — North Carolina will partner with anyone willing to implement good policy and will stand firm against any effort to implement bad policies,” the group said on its website. “That’s why we’re urging voters to vote no on this amendment.”

The particular amendment deals with the appointment of North Carolina’s justices. As the law stands now, the governor has the sole power to fill any judicial vacancy that occurs between elections.

Should the amendment pass, the process would involve more steps.

According to the amendment, a Nonpartisan Judicial Merit Commission will be formed to determine which judicial nominees are qualified to fill the empty seat. The commission will consist of no more than nine members whose appointments shall be allocated between the chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, the governor and the N.C. General Assembly.

Next, the legislature will recommend to the governor at least two justices from the pool of qualified nominees. The governor must then pick between these recommendations.  

Pat Ryan, the spokesperson for N.C. Senate president pro tempore Phil Berger, said this amendment will reinforce the system of checks and balances between the three branches. He cited former Gov. Beverly Perdue’s outgoing appointment of four judges, two of which were from her own cabinet, as an example of the cronyism that this new amendment seeks to eliminate.  

However, AFP-NC claims passing the amendment will have the opposite effect. Chris McCoy, the AFP-NC state director, said in a statement that the amendment would serve to give more power to special-interests and will politicize the courts.

“We’re strongly urging all North Carolinians to reject this backdoor effort that would lead to manipulation and cronyism in an institution that must remain fair, independent and impartial,” McCoy said.

Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle said the amendment is extremely problematic both for its immediate effect of reducing the power of the governorship and for enabling the legislature to expand the supreme court with judges that will act in favor of the Republican supermajority.  

Lavelle said the implementation of partisan elections for judges ,as well as recent events in the federal court system, are examples of unwanted politicization in the judicial branch.  

“I hope we are not heading down that way at the state level,” Lavelle said.  

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger also spoke out against the amendment, calling it one of the worst of the six.  

“It upsets the balance of power,” Hemminger said.  

Both mayors signed a joint statement of opposition to all six amendments up for referendum along with many other local officials, including the mayors of Durham, Morrisville, Garner and Holly Springs. The officials were concerned with the general lack of enabling legislation and specification of the amendments.

“These constitutional amendments were written by politicians to sound good, but without any of the fine print,” the letter said. “We are afraid that fine print will eventually be a bad deal for local governments and North Carolina families.”

Ryan denies any accusation of disingenuous intention. He said the amendments will aid in advancing the governing philosophy of the North Carolina Republican Party, which is to make the government smaller, to make it more efficient and to let the private sector do what it does best.

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