Organizations like Democracy NC, Progress North Carolina, the North Carolina NAACP and North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections have hosted Fair Courts Rallies, Town Halls and Days of Action all over the state since the first day of the new year. In Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 4, a group of protesters marched through Uptown Charlotte with signs that read, “North Carolina, we’re better than this,” “Fighting for Fair Courts, Fair Maps, Fair Votes,” and “Keep Politics Out of Justice.” With strips of tape plastered over many mouths and bullhorns leading the pack, the group was one of many that have made their opinions known in this unending battle for the courts.
It seems that North Carolina’s reputation for biased, partisan politics continues to ring true into the New Year. As the 2017 sessions close, plans have been laid to further strip the democratic process as it influences judicial appointments. As it stands in North Carolina, the voters ultimately control the courts, voting on their judicial representatives to ensure a fair and balanced reign of law in the state.
Republican lawmakers, however, have long had other plans for the judicial branch of law. House Bill 656, enacted in October of last year, removed primary elections for judges, increasing the length of already overlong ballots in far too many districts. Since then, further legislation has been introduced and proposed at the state level, some bills pushing greater gerrymandering into legislative maps and others eliminating judicial elections entirely, removing the power from the people and placing it distinctly in the hands of politicians.
This redistricting or legislative power removal would result directly in negative consequences for LGBTQ North Carolinians and allied minority populations. Gerrymandered districts, almost by definition, are drawn to hold Democratic voters, most often voters of color, within strict boundary lines, limiting their power to enact change with their votes. This disenfranchisement can frequently lead to disillusionment with the system, often causing voters to leave their ballots uncast. Ballots uncast by Democratic voters, in a state like North Carolina, will likely mean fewer LGBTQ-friendly votes counted on Election Day.
Another struggling aspect of the judicial system in North Carolina is the reduction of the size of the appellate court in the state. Effectively removing Gov. Roy Cooper’s ability to make short-term interim appointments, this is another act of removing power from a Democratic leader to strip the ability of voters to influence the legislative and judicial systems in North Carolina. Cooper has stated his disagreement with the plans of the Republican-led legislature. He has even stated that he will refuse an alternative “merit selection” process that involves a lengthier vetting and confirmation process.
LGBTQ voters, in settings with stacked courts of conservative or Republican judges, are often left out of the conversation or actively targeted. Without judges to fight against anti-LGBTQ legislation, like the attempts to bar transgender individuals from the military on a national level, there is no check to ensure an equitable system of government. Without equitable treatment under the law, many protections recently ensured for minority voters, particularly those who identify as LGBTQ, have a distinct chance of being repealed or actively worsened.
In 2018, the progress of this judicial gerrymandering and restriction will be one to watch. With the Senate back in session early in 2018, changes may be seen and felt earlier than anticipated. Regardless, the North Carolina courts and the voters and citizens of the state have a lot of conversations to have about the future of North Carolina’s judicial system. : :