Judicial Credibility At Issue In North Carolina Supreme Court Case
Civil Rights Policy Brief #200 | By: Rodney A. Maggay | February 20, 2023
Header photo taken from: Kira Lerner / States Newsroom
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Photo taken from: Photo by Samantha Lewis / The Daily Tar Heel
In 2018, North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment that would require a voter to present a valid photo ID in order to vote in – person. In response, North Carolina’s Republican majority state legislature enacted S.B. 824, which would implement the amendment even though Governor Roy Cooper vetoed the bill. The issue of a voter ID as a requirement to vote is controversial and multiple lawsuits in federal and state courts challenging the amendment soon followed.
In 2018, the case North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. Raymond was filed in federal district court. That case resulted in the court temporarily blocking the voter ID law from going into effect. That order was then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which reversed the district court blocking the voter ID law.
While that case moved through the federal courts, a similar case in the North Carolina state courts proceeded to challenge S.B. 824. The case was heard before a three – judge panel who determined, after a three – week trial, that racial discrimination was a motivating factor to enact S.B. 824. As a result, the bill was held to be in violation of the North Carolina state constitution. The case was then appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court, which affirmed in December 2022 in a 5 – 4 vote the trial court’s decision to permanently block the bill from taking effect. The decision presented a concise and thorough analysis demonstrating why the bill was flawed from a constitutional standpoint.
However, the 2022 North Carolina mid term elections for the state supreme court changed the composition of the court. The state supreme court changed from a 5 – 4 Democratic majority to five seats on the court now being occupied by Republicans. And as a direct result of this change, Republicans in the North Carolina legislature appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court again for a re-hearing on the case that permanently blocked S.B. 824. In a surprising move, the Supreme Court agreed to re-hear the case and set a date for oral arguments for March 15, 2023. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE
What is remarkable about the decision of the North Carolina Supreme Court to grant a re – hearing is that a grant for a re – hearing is exceedingly rare (a re – hearing by the North Carolina Supreme Court has been granted only twice in the last thirty years) and that it was only granted after the composition of the court was significantly changed.
What the grant of re – hearing for the two cases (the second case is about gerrymandered maps) illustrates is a reason why there has been a decline in the credibility of courts (e.g., Supreme Court of the United States) and the judiciary for the last few years. Gov. Roy Cooper was right on point when he criticized the decision to re – hear by saying “Rehearing cases because you don’t like the previous outcome isn’t how our judicial system is supposed to work.”
He went on to say further that “[T]he meaning of the constitution doesn’t change when new judges are elected.” This is a direct result of the divisive nature of politics today. When politicians and voters engage in extreme “end of democracy” rhetoric and insist that only they know what is right, they become more inclined to take actions that should be left alone instead of maybe reaching out to make compromises with their colleagues.
By not accepting the finality of a court decision, politicians are further destroying the credibility of the judicial system by sending out the message that a court can be manipulated for partisan ends if new and more favorable judges and justices are installed. It’s a slippery slope that politicians and members of the judiciary should not embark on.
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Another disappointing aspect of the order granting a re – hearing is how it diminishes not just the credibility of the persons serving on the court but the words, analysis and legal reasoning put forth by the court. Justice Morgan, a member of the court wrote that the court has implemented high standards and provided thorough and studied legal analysis of the issues based on written submissions and oral arguments heard.
The decision initially holding S.B. 824 unconstitutional was done with precision and care and with a respect for legal precedents. But if the case is re – heard, a decision overturning that decision will further destroy the credibility of what the court has to say in the future because most will understand that the new reasoning put forth is blatantly partisan.
There will be less and less trust in the words coming from the court because people will know that the outcome was likely decided beforehand and the legal analysis was only written to fit a political agenda.
Judges are to be neutral and the judiciary is supposed to offer a fair and impartial hearing but those attributes will not mean much if reasoned and thoughtful legal analysis and settled rules can be overturned for partisan ends. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE
This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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