The North Carolina State Senate passed Bill 757 recently, a bill which is planned to amend several judicial district boundaries. Those affected would be the Superior Courts in Mecklenburg, Pender and New Hanover Counties, as well as the District Courts in Wake and Mecklenburg Counties. While receiving a passing vote, the bill has spurred debate on both sides of the political spectrum.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenburg) introduced the bill in an effort to give his constituents and others across the state better judicial representation. The Republican Party disagreed on which judicial districts needed changing, but eventually made a compromise consisting of the aforementioned districts. While some parts of the bill may be necessary, others are viewed as a gradual step towards gaining political power.
One of the main refuters of the bill was Democratic Leader Sen. Dan Blue. Blue agreed with Bishop that Mecklenburg County’s judicial districts should be reformed due to population disparity, but argued that the other districts should not be changed.
“What [Bishop] has done is put in play a process that’s going to slowly chip away at a system that had been put in place 50 years ago and had ended up being very successful — the District Court system of this state,” Blue stated. “You talk about time; it took a dozen years to get that system perfected.”
After the bill passed, Gov. Roy Cooper hesitated to respond. In the last hours of being able to act, Cooper decided to issue a veto, nullifying the bill. This infuriated Republican Senators, who saw the act as a purely political move.
“I promise you,[Cooper] knew the moment it passed the first chamber whether or not he was going to veto this bill,” said Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell). “But instead he wanted to create some chaos…that’s the way this Governor likes to play, so we’re going to send the message back.”
The Republican form of response to Cooper’s actions will be a vote to overturn the veto. While it could be a success for the Republican Party, it could cause more confusion for the public. Those particularly affected are citizens who have already applied for candidacy for judge positions in the counties mentioned in the bill.
If the districts were to change, those who have already filed for candidacy would have to withdraw and re-file under the new district. Such a process would be time-consuming and also costly. Candidates would have to pay the $1,167 filing fee again but were told that they would eventually be reimbursed.
With all of the confusion surrounding judicial redistricting, politicians hope that it has not drastically affected public opinion of the government. Sen. Jeff Jackson (D-Mecklenburg) criticized that the bill and response to the veto were “overly political.” He also added that his colleagues from both parties lacked “courage and decency” by excluding the public from this debate.
“It’s hard to imagine a process of judicial redistricting that would inspire less confidence than this one,” Jackson said.