Our View: Two-year judicial terms a terrible idea


The Rocky Mount Telegram

Sunday, November 5, 2017

When it comes to North Carolina’s court system, Republican state lawmakers certainly have no shortage of bad ideas.

Earlier this year, lawmakers passed bills making District Court and Superior Court races officially partisan elections again, making North Carolina the first state in nearly a century to adopt partisan court elections. That came on the heels of an earlier measure that ended the state’s experiment with public funding of judicial campaigns.

N.C. House Republicans also passed legislation redrawing the state’s judicial districts. While updating the districts is probably more than past due, critics of the measure seem on point when they charge that the GOP’s districts were designed to elect more Republican judges by packing incumbent Democratic judges into the same districts, forcing them to run against each other.

The latest dubious notion comes from N.C. Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, chairman of the Senate Rules and Operations Committee, who wants to shorten the terms of all judges in the state to two years and end all current judge’s terms at the end of 2018.

Rabon’s proposal is a disaster in the making. It would force judges to practically be in permanent campaign mode, forcing them to spend as much time raising money and campaigning as they do hearing cases. That’s the view of N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin — a Republican and fierce opponent of the proposal. Another prominent Republican jurist, former Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr, called the proposal an effort to intimidate the judiciary that sends a message that is fundamentally repugnant.

N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger last week announced the creation of a select committee on judicial reform to consider the House changes to judicial districts and other changes to the judiciary, including a merit selection system for judges.

There are certainly many worthy ideas for that committee to ponder, but reducing judges’ terms to two years is definitely not one of them.