(Photos from Democracy NC)

Judicial Redistricting (HB 717) Statement

by Lekha Shupeck 9/27/17


First, I want to say that it is unfortunate that this committee has seen fit to rush this bill through, especially in the face of strong opposition from judges, lawyers, and North Carolina citizens. It is a bill that aims to completely reorganize North Carolina’s court system. This court system is the means by which the state delivers justice to its people. And to reorganize it without long study and thorough consideration endangers the people’s access to justice.

Why is this being done? Considering that the committee has not released information about which judges would be affected and how, this question is difficult to answer. Fortunately, with the help of Maryclare Griffin, a statistics doctoral student, Together We Will NC has been able to give the public a small glimpse into what the goals of this reorganization might be.

Our analysis shows a statistically significant correlation between Superior Court judges’ party identification and the likelihood that they will be double-bunked under the new plan. To be specific, nearly 40% of Superior Court judges who identify as Democrats will be double-bunked in their new districts. By contrast, only 12% of judges who identify as Republicans will be forced to compete in this way. This appears to be an effort to push Democratic judges out of office while giving a partisan advantage to Republicans.

In addition, the places where the number of judges is being lowered are largely districts with a higher than average percentage of black population. This removes important judicial resources from these communities and will likely obstruct their access to justice. Therefore, we believe that this bill is not only partisan, but has a racially discriminatory impact.

In light of this, Patti Rieser, one of our members, asks that you “Please review your notes from high school civics class: the legislature does not and should not control every branch of government! We have checks and balances for a reason, and this legislature continues to demonstrate why that’s crucial.”

Senior Duke Law Professor, Laurence Helfer gave us this statement: “As a North Carolina voter and a professor of law, I write to urge you to refrain from precipitously revising the State’s judicial districts.Maintaining the independence and impartiality of North Carolina’s judiciary is essential to ensuring a vibrant democracy and upholding the rule of law.Any changes to the existing district maps in the State requires a deliberative and public process with input from judges, lawyers, scholars of judicial administration and voters.Revisions that are carried out precipitously, in secret, or with implicit partisan objectives will undermine the judiciary’s essential role in protecting individual rights, fairly interpreting the law, and serving as a necessary check on the political branches of government as envisioned in the constitution.”

Finally, Donna Kaye of Durham says that “It is rare that attorneys and the judicial community all agree on something, and they agree that HB 717 is unjust.”

We agree too. And therefore, we ask that you vote down this unjust bill.