N.C. Rep. Joe John, D-Wake and a former District Court, Superior Court and Court of Appeals jduge, delivered these remarks on the House floor Wednesday opposing House Bill 100, which would make district and superior court races partisan. The bill passed the House 65-51.
It is happenstance, but appropriate Mr. Speaker, that my first remarks on the floor of this Chamber are directed at a bill which seeks to return the election of judges to the rough and tumble of partisan politics.
I stand here, Mr. Speaker, like some other members, as one who prevailed in a very ugly, partisan election. But unlike any other member here, I also stand here as one who has served for nearly 25 years as a District Court, Superior Court and Court of Appeals judge in the Courts of North Carolina.
Despite the disturbing notion that creeps up regularly in our media – we often read of one Court or another having a majority of members affiliated with one party or another – I was not, and the good men and women who serve as judges today in our state are not, are not, Mr. Speaker, partisan politicians, and they have not – our Superior Court Judges, for example, for over 20 years since 1996, and our District Court Judges for over 15 years since 2001 – not been required to engage in election campaigns which threaten to blur the line between the sacred independence of the judicial branch and the raw red meat of hostile partisan elections, a line which only seven states in our Union have decided to cross. The system is not broken, Mr. Speaker, it has worked well for years upon years, there is no need to fix it.
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For example, with all due respect, to say in this year of 2017 that voters cannot learn of the qualifications of judicial candidates belies the continuing presence of in our State of judicial and judicial candidate ratings by the North Carolina Bar Association and other groups, a plethora of candidate questionnaires, and the fact of life in this digital age that anyone can learn anything about anybody anytime by spending a few minutes on a computer using Google or some similar search engine.
Rank political partisanship, Mr. Speaker, is the very antithesis of what we all expect in a judge – fairness, impartiality and a dedicated and determined adherence to the law. Indeed, our N.C. judges swear an oath to observe the laws and Constitution of the State of North Carolina, and that oath is not sworn upon a copy of the Democratic or Republican Party platform. It is a solemn obligation, solemnly fulfilled on a daily basis by hundreds of judges throughout our State.
Many years ago, President John F. Kennedy, famously said, “let us not seek the Democratic answer or the Republican answer, but rather let us seek the right answer.” The right answer, the right thing with reference to this bill, Mr. Speaker, is not to plunge our judges into the mud-spattered arena of partisan campaigns.
From the depths of my heart and based on my years of experience in a role I truly loved, I urge all members to vote “No” on this bill.