Opinion: Daily Journal

The confessions of a judiciary junkie 

N.C. Supreme Court justices, Spring 2019 (Photo courtesy of N.C. courts)
N.C. Supreme Court justices, Spring 2019 (Photo courtesy of N.C. courts)

The 2016 presidential campaign turned me into a judiciary junkie. As Democrats force fed the American public an unhealthy diet of identity politics, voters like me quietly became champions of the judicial branch. While we didn’t know how Donald Trump would govern, we did know his judicial philosophy when he wisely released his list of potential Supreme Court nominees. 

Four years later, Trump’s policy positions aren’t secret, and I agree with most of them. Yet, I’m still focused on the judiciary. Although not quietly, and not just the U.S. Supreme Court, because in North Carolina we vote directly on our state Supreme Court justices. 

The recent death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg thrust the U.S. Supreme Court into the headlines. Already having two of his nominees confirmed to the Supreme Court, Trump will do his constitutional duty and nominate a replacement, as President Obama did in 2016 when Justice Antonin Scalia died. (The president had not announced his nominee as this column was finished.) 

Democrats probably realize running on identity politics in 2016 was a political miscalculation. Now, they’re losing their collective minds, threatening impeachment, court packing, burning down the country, blowing up the system, adding new states, eliminating the Electoral College — anything and everything to stop the president from doing his constitutional duty. None of this is new. Democrats want to hold our constitutional republic hostage because they failed to win crucial elections at critical times. 

Despite losses at the federal level, Democrats have done well influencing the N.C. Supreme Court. Over a couple of election cycles, the left has secured a partisan 6-1 progressive Democrat majority. 

With three justices’ seats to be decided this year, balance on the court and the future of several popular public policies are on our ballot. After Nov. 3, it’s likely to be either a 7-0 progressive Democrat majority, or if the slate of Republicans — Associate Justice Paul Newby, Judge Phil Berger Jr., and Tamara Barringer — wins, a tenuous 4-3 Democrat majority. 

The left knows how important its majority is. Washington, D.C.-based political action committee Future Now Fund wrote in an analysis of N.C. redistricting: “The State Supreme Court is Democratic … so that should be a check on Republicans’ worst instincts.” 

Translation: Democrats on the court are to safeguard a partisan agenda and provide cover for Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper when he oversteps his executive branch authority. 

No one knows this better than Fairwood Lanes owners Elizabeth and Timothy Robinson, who have been locked in a legal battle with Cooper over his arbitrary COVID shutdowns. After Judge James Gale ruled in July that bowling alleys could reopen, the governor appealed to the state Supreme Court, which, unsurprisingly, sided with him and shuttered the couple’s business indefinitely. 

Fairwood Lanes is just one of an untold number of small businesses devastated by Cooper’s unending shutdown that couldn’t rely on our state Supreme Court for relief. As the National Federation of Independent Businesses explained in its endorsement of the Republican slate, it’s important to have a judiciary that’s fair, impartial, and “understands issues affecting the small-business community.” 

Along with NFIB, public safety professionals like the N.C. Troopers’ Association are keeping close tabs on these races and have endorsed the Republican slate, stating they prefer jurists “who rule by the law rather than legislate from the bench.” 

Voters have reason for concern about this court legislating from the bench. Two 2018 constitutional amendments — lowering the state income tax cap and establishing voter ID — were opposed by Democrats but passed by voters. Now they will end up in the state Supreme Court, thanks to a leftist special-interest group lawsuit. 

Each amendment garnered more votes than any statewide candidate on the ballot, including current Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls. The tax cap amendment secured 280,000 more votes than Earls. “Yet Earls and her Supreme Court colleagues could end up deciding whether the 2 million votes cast for the income tax cap and voter ID end up amounting to nothing,” wrote my John Locke Foundation colleague Mitch Kokai. 

Low-income students who receive Opportunity Scholarships and their parents should be worried, too. Cooper has been an outspoken opponent of the program, and current Chief Justice Cheri Beasley authored a scathing minority opinion against them in 2015 as an associate justice. With a new teachers’ union lawsuit, Democrats look to weaken the schoolchoice option. They will pursue their goal through our state Supreme Court because they can’t accomplish it in the legislature or in the court of public opinion. 

Voters can’t flip the majority in one election cycle, but they can begin to restore balance to the court. With so many important issues — including separation of powers, public safety, school choice, voter ID, and the Cooper shutdown — riding on these three seats, we should all be judiciary junkies now.

Amy Cooke (@TheRightAOC) is CEO of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.