Senate Select Committee wants to go back to Civil War-Era Judicial System

The Senate Select Committee on Judicial Reform and Redistricting focused their second meeting on the judicial selection process and possible reforms to NC’s judiciary. The Committee hosted three guest presenters during the December 6 meeting, Dean Brinkley and Professor Orth from the UNC School of Law and Alicia Bannon from the Brennan Center at NYU. The UNC Law professors explained North Carolina’s judicial history while Bannon explained different judicial selection processes and her recommendation for our state.

It was apparent the Senate Committee members wanted to give the General Assembly the power to appoint judges. The last time North Carolina’s legislators had that power was in the Civil War-era. The experts said this method undesirable because it can be a political and opaque process that leads to nepotism. However, senators liked the idea of going back to a process developed when only landowning white men could vote. Senator Hise proceeded to argue with his question that only the General Assembly should be given any power – perhaps the most honest statement of lawmakers’ real intent in their attempts at judicial reform:

Only two other states still allow their legislators to select judges, South Carolina and Virginia. According to Brinkley between the Colonial and Civil War-eras, legislators often nominated their old General Assembly friends to the bench. Bannon and the Brennan Center explained that legislative appointment systems “lack clear lines of accountability for appointment decisions.” She elaborated that the process often happens behind closed door with influences from special interests, legislators have “regularly appointed former colleagues,” and faced nepotism accusations.

Women were rarely educated and couldn’t vote during the legislative selection era may members seemed to pine for. Our senators made sure to welcome guest presenter Alicia Bannon of NYU with their southern hospitality by interrupting her multiple times despite never having done so to the previous two presenters.

Bishop interrupted Bannon’s presentation questioning her reasoning on depoliticizing the process.

Sen. Daniel dismissed concerns about diversity on the bench since the committee holding the meeting had at least three different types of attorneys and one woman: “What body is more accountable to the people and more diverse than the legislature? Just look at this committee here, you’ve got plaintiffs’ attorneys, business attorneys, attorney with a government background, you have women, men, minorities." 

The Senate Committee on Judicial Reform and Redistricting would prefer our state return to Antebellum processes created when women and people of color could not vote – let alone present in front of a Senate committee.