Reality Check: North Carolina Supreme Court packing
ASHEVILLE, NC —
North Carolina Democrats celebrated a major victory after winning control of the North Carolina Supreme Court. But could Republicans and possibly the outgoing governor spoil that victory?
The state constitution allows for up to nine seats on the state Supreme Court. Presently, there are only seven. With the court now leaning in the Democrats' favor, we could see Republicans pushing for a political power play.
The Republican-controlled legislature could launch a political battle to regain control of the state's highest court.
"Our state constitution says the court can have between seven and nine members," according to Western Carolina University Political Science professor Chris Cooper. He says the North Carolina Constitution grants the legislature the power to expand the court.
It's spelled out in Article 4, Section 6, where it says, "The General Assembly may increase the number of associate justices."
"Right now, we have seven members, 4-3 Democrat. So, if the legislature decided to increase the size of the court to nine, Pat McCrory would then have the ability to appoint, so we'd end up with a 5-4 Republican," Cooper explained.
Former Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr calls it a lot of talk and nothing more.
"Anytime people are aware that the authority is there, they talk about it," he said.
Orr says the discussion is motivated by continuing litigation over redistricting. The General Assembly draws the lines, but the Supreme Court would decide whether they're upheld in a legal challenge.
"The workload does not justify an expansion," according to Orr. He says the Supreme Court's workload has actually been decreasing. He says with no good reason, it's probably unlikely.
"The only reason to do it would be partisan advantage, and that's not good for the court, not good for whoever got appointed," Orr said.
Some believe it would not be good for the public, who continue to lose faith in the independence of the legal system and their government.
"Kind of the definition of rigging the election, which Donald Trump has been talking about for months and months and months. So, I do worry about the long-term democratic implications," Cooper said.
So while it's possible, it's still not likely considering the political firestorm it would most definitely create.
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