No politics in courtrooms

Published 3:57 pm Thursday, March 30, 2017

It may be the law of the land in North Carolina, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.

Politics should have no place in the state’s courtrooms, but that could happen the next time Tarheel voters go to the polls and vote in judicial races. That happens in 2018.

Last week, Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly overrode Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of legislation that called for making races for District Court seats and Superior Court seats partisan affairs. Currently, those races are nonpartisan. What’s worrisome about those judicial races becoming partisan is that many voters would use party affiliations — instead of appropriate qualifications — when it comes to voting for judicial candidates. A candidate’s record, judicial philosophies and other applicable criteria should be used when selecting a judge, not whether there’s an R or D or U after the candidates name.

It’s understandable that a Republican voter would want judges who have a conservative leaning, as it’s understandable that a Democratic voter would prefer a judge whose views echo their views. Supporters of partisan judicial elections contend such elections would help prevent “activist” judges from legislating from the bench. Opponents of partisan judicial elections argue that such elections introduce partisan politics where such politics should not be introduced.

As for unaffiliated judicial candidates, the new law means they will no longer simply be able to pay the filing fee and file to run for election. In 2018, such candidates will be required to obtain signatures of voters who endorse their campaigns. Registered Republicans and Democrats will not have to obtain signatures.

Attempts to make judicial races partisan did not surface this year. In 2011, Senate Bill 47, if it became law, would have restored all of the state’s judicial races to partisan status. That did not happen.

Judicial candidates should be elected based on their previous record on the bench, if they have such a record, or their judicial — not political — philosophies if they do not have a judicial record. Fair-mindedness and adjudicating without favoritism should be what matters when picking judges, not party affiliation or party loyalty.