Opinion: Carolina Journal Opinions

Liberal commentators’ faux outrage over judicial position changes; again play race card

Phil Berger Jr., with his wife Jodie beside him, takes the oath of office for the N.C. Court of Appeals in January 2017 from Supreme Court Associate  Justice Paul Newby. (Image from Phil Berger Jr.'s Facebook page)
Phil Berger Jr., with his wife Jodie beside him, takes the oath of office for the N.C. Court of Appeals in January 2017 from Supreme Court Associate Justice Paul Newby. (Image from Phil Berger Jr.'s Facebook page)

Does it ever get old? The never-ending wash, rinse, repeat cycle of liberals throwing out the race card every time they don’t like conservatives doing or not doing something, even when completely legal, normal and appropriate?

In his first major announcement as chief justice, Paul Newby has named Superior Court Judge Andrew Heath director of the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts.

Heath, a former state budget director, will manage the administrative services provided to the judicial branch’s more than 6,400 employees and 213 judicial facilities in every county, with a budget of roughly $550 million. Heath’s role began last week. As any reasonable person would expect, Heath has begun replacing former Chief Justice Cherie Beasley’s top-level administrators within AOC. 

Heath has already announced Ryan Boyce will be leading the Court Program and Services as well as Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs. University of North Carolina professor Trey Allen will serve as the new AOC General Counsel. 

This, of course, should surprise nobody. Beasley was a Democrat. She was appointed by Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper. Newby is a Republican.

During the campaign, Newby and Beasley had contrasting positions on the extended court closures due to COVID-19.  As Newby was formally installed, he made absolutely clear:

“The courts shall be open, and that justice shall be administered without favor, denial or delay. That is the constitutional requirement that the courts shall be open. Open courts available for all the citizens is not a luxury it is a mandate.” 

Democrats losing their jobs are now bitterly complaining about the changes at AOC.

The faux outrage began late Sunday when liberal activist David Daley, senior fellow for FairVote and the author of Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy, tweeted:

“BREAKING in NC: I’m told the new GOP state supreme court Chief Justice Newby has fired top court administrative officials including executive directors and general counsel. Described as “unprecedented and unparalleled” power grab to remake NC courts.

Daley followed up with more hyperbolic commentary:

“Newby defeated the Democratic chief justice in November by just 401 votes. Ds hold 4-3 edge, but big changes underway in a state where the Supreme Court has been a key bulwark against R legislature’s gerrymanders and suppression efforts.

“Those out, I’m told — with almost zero notice — include the director, deputy director, general counsel, legislative liaison, and director of organizational development at the administrative office of the courts.”

 Governors and other statewide elected members of the Council of State all have a number of appointees that can be hired and fired at will. And while many employees in state agencies are covered by the state’s Personnel Act, meaning they can’t be fired without cause, no judicial branch employees are covered by the act. 

N.C. Policy Watch took liberal outrage to the expected and typical landing spot, the race card.

An internal memo from the AOC obtained by Policy Watch names the newcomers — two white men and a white woman who recently graduated from college and had limited experience in administrative roles within the judicial branch.”

But one of North Carolina’s leading constitutional experts is calling out the drummed up outrage.  

“The criticism is not only unfounded, it is downright wacky. Liberals, obviously displeased at having lost all statewide judicial elections, including the chief justice, aren’t complaining about who Newby chose to fill those roles,” said Jeanette Doran, president and general counsel of the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law.

“They are complaining that he chose people at all. Last week, Newby replaced the director of the AOC and the legal counsel. That management decision is like the governor picking his budget director and legal counsel. No one should be surprised by that decision, least of all those who held the positions during the previous chief justice’s term. People who serve under a chief justice or governor can’t be surprised when their employment ends when a new boss gets elected. Those who follow politics and elections cannot be surprised that elections have consequences.”

As Doran noted: “Critics can complain about his (Newby’s) choices, but the choices are his to make. Just as the selection of the chief justice was the voters’ choice to make, and they made it.”

Former N.C. AOC Director Judge Marion Warren reinforced the routines and validity of the decision: “The director of the Administrative Office of the Courts is duty-bound to put people in place to carry out the policy positions of the chief justice when it comes to fair, effective and efficient administration of our courts. “There is nothing unusual or unexpected here,” added Warren. “However, it does show the chief justice’s sense of urgency to meet the constitutional mandate to get our courts back up and running to deliver fair and equal justice for all.”