A Republican-led legislative committee is knee-deep in a plan that would take some judicial appointments currently made by the governor’s office and transfer that power to the General Assembly.
Yes, it’s a familiar story. Since even before Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper took office, the GOP-dominated General Assembly has worked to strip him of power time and again — creating power struggles still being worked out by the courts.
But one Republican member of that committee said something this past week that made me scratch my head.
“Why are we competent to make this kind of decision on appointing judges?” Rep. John Blust said, as reported by The News & Observer.
A comment like this from a Greensboro Republican is certainly significant. There hasn’t been a lot of infighting among the North Carolina GOP since taking over state government in 2010.
But I just don’t buy his as a winning argument.
What makes a legislature “competent” or qualified to do anything?
You can view it as either a bug or a feature, but such is the nature of our representative system in the United States. We don’t elect experts or technocrats to office, we select people we believe will best translate our interests into policy.
What makes the General Assembly competent to set tax policy? Fund road projects? Or anything?
To be honest, the procedure by which our elected officials make decisions is the same kind of system that produces journalists. What makes me competent to write about North Carolina politics? Well, I put in the work to study it.
Now, to be sure, I’m definitely not convinced that changing how the judiciary is structured is good for North Carolina. It certainly seems to be done for partisan gain. I’ll take a closer look when a proposal is formally put on the table.
But to say the legislature isn’t competent to do this just doesn’t seem like the right attack.
In this case, the General Assembly is certainly taking its time to study the issue. A Senate committee has held four meetings on judicial reform since last November, and a joint committee has held three more this year.
They’ve brought in experts to explain the nuances of the options they have: Gerry Cohen, Michael Crowell, Alicia Bannon from the Brennan Center, Martin H. Brinkley and John V. Orth from the UNC School of Law, and Scott Gaylord from the Elon University School of Law among them.
It is the General Assembly’s job to make these kinds of decisions.
For better or for worse, our state has historically had a weak executive office and a strong legislature. Our system is designed to have a powerful General Assembly.
And in fact, judicial appointments are specifically spelled out in the N.C. constitution as something the legislature can do: “The General Assembly may provide by general law for the selection or appointment of special or emergency Superior Court Judges not selected for a particular judicial district.”
We should hold the General Assembly accountable for making the right decision for the state, not the politically expedient one. We can criticize them when they fail at this.
But we’ve decided as a state and as a nation that elected leaders are, in fact, “competent” to make these choices. Let’s keep the attention where it belongs.