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North Carolina judicial remapping raises the ire of black lawmakers
Bill would double-bunk black incumbents
Published Saturday, October 7, 2017 12:24 pm
by Herbert L. White

An N.C. House bill would force half of the state's black judges to run against each other. The Senate has not indicated plans to debate the legislation.

African American lawmakers are taking on a North Carolina bill that would force incumbent black judges to run against each other.

Republican lawmakers voted this week to cancel primary elections for judges and the House voted to gerrymander their districts with HB 717. The maps would force half the state’s African-American judges to run against another black incumbent to keep their seats or move to another district. The Senate has not indicated plans to debate the bill.  

“Gerrymandering judges is a bad idea,” said Rep. Beverly Earle, a Charlotte Democrat who voted against HB 717. “You would have to travel far and wide in North Carolina to find a Republican, Democrat, or Independent who thought differently.”

In  1987, the General Assembly settled a lawsuit filed by African American residents to give racial minorities the ability to elect Superior Court judges of their choice. The plaintiffs challenged the practice submerging minority communities into large multi-judge, majority white districts. The N.C. Legislative Black Caucus, which opposes the remap, urges public hearings across the state as well as constitutional review and a study of its impact across the state.

"One thing that is clear about this current redistricting proposal is that it will disproportionately reduce the opportunity for African American judges across the state," said caucus Chair Sen. Angela Bryant, a Democrat from Nash, County. “…This Republican House plan takes us back to the days of these submerged large multi-judge districts in violation of the principles of that settlement.” 

On Sept. 29, NC Policy Watch, a progressive advocacy group, projected HB 717 would force black justices to face off against each other in percentages larger than their share of total judgeships:

• 65 percent of all black male District Court judges

• 53 percent of all black District Court judges

• 47 percent of all black female District Court judges and

• 40 percent of all black male Superior Court judges.

“The public must have confidence in the judges in our district and superior courts, and they should be free of partisan gerrymandering,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat and chair of the LBC’s Redistricting Committee. “Their effort to politicize our districts in superior courts should be rejected. We should work collaboratively to address any inefficiencies, but partisan gerrymandering is not the answer.”

Said Earle: “HB 717 threatens judicial independence by gerrymandering the lines by which the voters elect judges. We do not need partisan judges, but that is what this bill gives us.

“Gerrymandering means the politicians pick the judges for the people, rather than the people picking the judges.  That’s a scary thought considering the judges are the public officials who can act as a check on the politicians.”


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