First in Judicial Review

North Carolina’s license plates have featured “First in Flight” and “First in Freedom” but as we drive our state forward we should check our rear-view mirrors for another historical milestone: First in Judicial Review.

For those in need of a refresher, judicial review is a key check-and-balance between branches of government that empowers the judicial branch to evaluate whether or not actions taken by the executive or legislative branches follow the Constitution. Here’s a segment from a civics book in my NC classroom:

The legitimacy of judicial review has been recently undermined by GOP leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly as they fight against the court order requiring them to increase funding for public schools in North Carolina. These funds are required to fulfill the state constitution’s requirement to provide a “sound, basic education.”

That same civics textbook includes a summary of the Leandro case requiring this additional support, though it shows its age with a 2008 version of our state’s progress toward fulfilling that duty.

Here’s an update on our state’s lack of progress on meeting that mission:

Last year, Sen. Phil Berger’s spokesperson said, “If Judge Lee wants to help decide how to spend state dollars — a role that has been the exclusive domain of the legislative branch since the state’s founding — then Judge Lee should run for a seat in the House or Senate.”

If Berger wants to help decide how to interpret the constitution and prescribe remedies for violations — a role that’s been the exclusive domain of the judicial branch since the state’s founding — then he should join his son and run for a seat on the State Supreme Court.

NC GOP also resists court intervention in unconstitutional gerrymandering. For a review on gerrymandering, here’s a summary from that civics textbook

Additional context this book is missing because of its 2008 publication date, so here are some clips to catch up on gerrymandering in NC over the last decade:

From https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/north-carolina-judges-toss-maps-slam-gerrymandering-stinging-ruling-n1049411

The newest maps created in 2021 received this assessment from the Princeton Gerrymander Project:

Sen. Berger also pushes back on judicial oversight of gerrymandered maps and his latest gripe is that having illegal maps overturned will limit the time to create legal maps before the primary election.

There were draft maps also evaluated by Princeton that earned an “A” including maps drawn by Sen. Ben Clark. If Sen. Berger is “concerned” about time and ensuring the NCGA keeps mapmaking power (instead of a court ordering an independent group to draw maps like last decade), then he can take some maps he and his allies put in the trash bin (for being too fair).

They’re likely next to the “concept” maps that were also destroyed since they’d prove GOP representatives shirked the “transparent” process that was more “seem” rather than “be.”

A legislative body does not have a blank check on power. Their power is guided by the Constitution and checked by the judicial branch to ensure adherence.

Griping about the referee for following the rule book is bad sportsmanship (even if you’re a Bills fan and it’s still fresh). This poor statesmanship is beneath the dignity of what we should be able to expect from state leaders entrusted with serving all North Carolinians, not just their base or themselves.

State leaders would do well to recall North Carolina was First in Judicial Review and if they want to leave it in the dust, we should affix it on their license plate as a reminder of its significance to the rest of us.

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