LETTER: Appoint N.C. judges

The North State Journal | Madeline Gray

Based on my conversations with friends and family, I believe the vast majority of our state’s citizens confront the judicial part of the ballot with minimal information — or information of a slanted, specious nature.In 2014, North Carolina ranked second in the nation for spending on statewide judicial elections. In that year and in 2016, political ads were aired by groups that do not disclose their donors and tend to feature arguably misleading sound bites.Minimal voter information, attack ads, and gamesmanship over ballot placement and labeling are not the ingredients for a healthy, independent judiciary. Judges must bear full allegiance to the rule of law and to our state and federal constitutions — not to any political party or campaign promises.If we turned to an appointive system — some version of the federal model that relied on gubernatorial appointment — we would take a step toward what our nation’s founders believed critical to reliable checks and balances among the three branches. As when voting for president, voters would consider a gubernatorial candidate’s record of sound judgment in making appointments and similar decisions. A screening body, or perhaps the state Senate, or both, could collaborate with the governor in an appointment-and-confirmation process.This reform would not remove all politics from the process of choosing judges. It would remove, however, all spending on judicial campaigns, all attack ads, and all ballot placement and labeling tactics. Most important, it would remove the risk of the public believing those elected will serve the objectives of their party or financial backers.As a lawyer and past president of the N.C. Bar Association, I believe a constant casualty of our judicial campaigns is the threat to judicial independence. Our General Assembly can provide the people of our state an opportunity — by a constitutional amendment — to choose a better way.John WesterCharlotte