Supreme Court Judicial Candidate Lucy Inman said in a recent interview when it comes to her rulings on the bench, she would “stand up for what is right.” In other words, her opinion will be the deciding factor, not the law. This alarming, bold admission shows judicial activism is becoming an accepted practice, and maybe it’s because voters don’t understand activist judges are silencing their voices.
A month before the 2022 primary early voting, NC Values Coalition released a poll showing 82 percent of North Carolinians were undecided on who to support in the state Supreme Court race. For the Court of Appeals race, 87 percent were undecided. Even though the results of judicial races can have longer-term impacts than legislative, voters don’t give these candidates the same attention. With concerns of judicial activism and non-Constitutional interpretation of the law, voters need to know judicial races are crucial and often the most important.
Two significant consequences of judicial activism could affect the current election outcomes regarding voter ID requirements and redistricting. In 2018, North Carolinians voted to require photo identification to vote. Right before this election, a North Carolina Superior Court reversed the will of the people by enjoining the law, paving the way for anyone to vote under another person’s name, and jeopardizing election integrity. The state Supreme Court also refused to accept the General Assembly’s Congressional election map even though the U.S. Constitution affords legislatures to determine “times, places and manner of” these elections. The Court hired a special master to redraw the districts, again violating the voters’ rights, employing judicial activism.
Abortion advocates are aggressively trying to go around voters in hopes activist judges will also do their bidding. In a lawsuit filed over two years ago by abortion industry groups, Planned Parenthood v. Moore, they seek to overturn almost every restriction on abortion, even health and safety laws and have urged the courts to create a constitutional right to abortion. In addition, they filed a motion in October to downgrade medical standards for administering chemical abortions, claiming the influx of pregnant mothers coming to North Carolina has overwhelmed abortion clinics. The billion-dollar abortion industry wants to ensure there is no barrier to abortion in our state. They are using this tactic to expand abortion rights. Suppose we do not obtain a conservative majority on the NC Supreme Court. In that case, the abortion industry may succeed in convincing the current activist Court to create a right to abortion in the North Carolina Constitution, which bypasses the legislature.
Another stunning example of judges usurping legislative authority surrounds the highly controversial Leandro v. State, where five counties sued, claiming inequitable education resources from the state. The settlement of this 25-year-old case would ask State Controller Nels Rosland to transfer $5.6 billion from the treasury without legislative consent, forcing him to violate his oath of office. The General Assembly, responsible for determining education funding, would be shut out, allowing the courts to snatch the people’s purse without regard to the state budget or current education appropriations.
Keep in mind that the courts’ duty is to uphold current law, not to make new laws or appropriate funds from the state treasury. The trial court’s order to transfer money from the state treasury has created a gross violation of the separation of powers.
Judicial races are partisan, and while a judge must be impartial, their political leanings portend judicial philosophy. Conservative judges are generally “originalists” who believe the constitutional text should be given the meaning when it was enacted. Judges with this philosophy typically subscribe to “textualism,” focusing on the plain meaning of a word instead of using political leanings, desired outcomes, or context to interpret words. Liberal judges hold the Constitution as a living, breathing document meant to be modernized by culture and political thought instead of interpreting the law as originally written and interpreted. Again, as Lucy Inman said, “you have to stand up for what is right,” while her conservative counterpart Richard Dietz believes in interpreting the law as written.
For voters valuing a judiciary with an originalist or textualist judicial philosophy, there is an urgency to get two conservative Supreme Court justices and four Court of Appeals judges elected this cycle. (One more Supreme Court justice would mean a new conservative majority.)
Court decisions have immediate impact and establish precedent, which in turn influences future court decisions. If we have judges using their personal opinions as a gauge for law, we risk implementing a judicial monarchy, crowning judges as kings and queens who are unbound by the law and precedent.
Right now, activist judges are looting the rights of the legislature to determine appropriations, drawing their preferred congressional districts, and would likely expand abortion in North Carolina. They have overturned the people’s vote to require voter identification at the polls.
Even if a conservative supermajority is gained in the General Assembly, activist judges can still overturn any legislation which doesn’t fit into their agendas. It takes an average of 15 minutes to vote, and in that time, you will help determine the future of North Carolina. Time is running out to protect the integrity of our Constitution, the rights of our citizens, and the right to life of the unborn.
Laura Macklem is the press and political director for NC Values Coalition.