Political notebook: Local groups plan to rally in Raleigh

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 4, 2018

By Andie Foley

As lawmakers continue their short legislative session, concerned voters from across the state are planning to rally in Raleigh this Tuesday.

The hope, according to a news release from Democracy NC, is “to make sure politicians do not go through with threats to change the way the state selects judges and revive voter ID restrictions.”

At 2 p.m. on Tuesday, groups from across the state will gather for a rally and press conference on Bicentennial Plaza, located at 1 E. Edenton St. in Raleigh, across from the legislative building.

The event is being called the “Fair Courts, Fair Votes Day of Action,” and is led by Democracy North Carolina, North Carolina NAACP, North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections, Progress NC, and others.

Expert speakers for the press conference include:

  • Tomas Lopez with Democracy NC
  • Allison Riggs with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice
  • Melissa Price Kromm with North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections
  • Retired Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks
  • Rev. T. Anthony Spearman with the North Carolina NAACP

Each will share his or her perspective on “the connections between ongoing partisan attacks on the courts and expected proposals targeting voting access.”

Legislative proposals that will be discussed during the Fair Courts, Fair Votes Day of Action, include:

  • House Bill 717: The Judicial Redistricting and Investment Act

This bill focuses on changing the judicial system in North Carolina, particularly by changing judicial districts.

Opposers of this bill, including the groups responsible for Tuesday’s rally, worry that the redistricting will be gerrymandered, favoring the party in power and suppressing communities of color and communities of low-income.

  • Senate Bill 698: Increase Voter Accountability of Judges

This bill for a constitutional amendment could potentially reduce judicial terms of elected judges. It calls to end every North Carolina judge’s term at the close of 2018.

The proposal seeks to thereafter reduce the terms of all 403 state judges to two years, a two-year cut for district judges and six year cut for Superior Court, Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court judges.

If passed, North Carolina would be the only state with two-year terms for judges.

  • House Bills 240 and 241

The proposals would remove judicial appointment powers from North Carolina’s governor. The powers would instead be moved to the General Assembly.

If passed, the legislature would replace District Court judges and special Superior Court judges when vacancies occur. Currently, the governor fills District Court seats by appointments and Superior Court judges by appointments that the legislature approves.

  • The “Purple Plan”

This potential judicial appointment plan would include an open nominations system, allowing anyone to apply for statewide judicial openings.

A commission appointed by the chief justice of the state Supreme court would then evaluate nominees for the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.

Local commissions would review potential Superior Court and District Court judges.

In both instances, qualified applicants would then be forwarded to the General Assembly, which would then select a minimum of three nominees per vacancy.

Tuesday’s talks will also address a to-be-named proposal to revive North Carolina’s voter ID law.

Following the rally and press conference, event participants, and organizers will have an opportunity to talk directly to lawmakers about these proposals.

The Fair Courts, Fair Votes Day of Action is the culmination of a months-long Fair Courts, Fair Votes town hall tour series. This series has already hosted thousands of North Carolinians in discussions and actions from across the state around these issues.

The day will also include statewide advocates, with many coming from cities such as Asheville, Charlotte, Greensboro, Greenville and Fayetteville to make their voices heard.

“For months, voters from across the state have been voicing their outrage at the General Assembly’s proposed attacks on North Carolina’s court and voting systems,” said Tomas Lopez, executive Director of Democracy North Carolina. “On June 5, voters will take that energy directly to the North Carolina General Assembly to fight for fair courts and fair votes, and finally find out where their lawmakers stand on unpopular proposals that seek to undermine the power of ordinary North Carolinians to influence their government.”