Now is the time for a reckoning in North Carolina and across the U.S.
These past few months have brought us a presidential campaign filled with mudslinging, hateful comments toward numerous racial, ethnic, sexual and religious minorities and a profound lack of trust in our political institutions and the leaders who run them.
Some have even questioned the validity of democracy itself, wondering if America can survive much longer as a bastion of freedom and equality as well as as an example for the rest of the world to follow.
In a democratic system, people are bound to make mistakes sometimes when selecting their elected officials. Our founders knew that the government would not be perfect, and this election is proof enough of that.
However, it must be noted that we elect the wrong people on the state and local level all the time, and we even do it at the national level on occasion. We have done it before, we are doing it now, and we will undoubtedly do it again in the future.
The key, of course, is to understand that our democratic system can take people out of office as easily as it can put them in. If the people anywhere in the country are unsatisfied with the political leaders who represent their community, state or nation, they vote them out.
Therefore, if you support a candidate who is in office, vote for that person again. If you do not, do the opposite. But the bottom line ,whatever the scenario may be, is to vote.
Nevertheless, those who are deeply worried about the very future of our democracy certainly have legitimate cause for concern.
But while many will go to the national level and cite the two major candidates for president as evidence for our declining political standard, they actually do not even have to look that far.
Here in North Carolina, there was an extremely troubling incident that took place after the election, and it did not have anything to do with either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
The contentious and hard-fought battle for the seventh seat on North Carolina’s Supreme Court ended with voters electing the registered Democrat Mike Morgan, a Wake County judge.
As one might expect, Republican leaders were disappointed in the result. Liberals saw the outcome as a victory, and Morgan’s election will tilt the court to the left with a 4-3 majority that clearly favors Democratic interests.
What many did not expect, though, were reports that emerged last week which said that Republican legislators are looking to add two more seats to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
The timing of this proposal leaves no doubt of the legislators’ intent: they want to pack the court and make sure that the Governor appoints two conservative judges and tips the balance back to favor Republicans.
There is scant if any precedent for an action like this one, and the one famous example of a plan similar to the kind that these legislators are proposing was when Franklin Roosevelt put forth the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937.
Frustrated that the Supreme Court had struck down integral parts of his New Deal legislation, Roosevelt devised a complex bill that would allow him to change the composition of the Court and push his new initiatives through the system. Unsurprisingly, this plan did not work, and many historians now consider the bill to be a major stain on Roosevelt’s otherwise impressive political career.
The attempt to try and pack the North Carolina Supreme Court is truly shameful.
There has already been growing anxiety that the federal and state courts have become politicized, and this plan only serves to confirm those fears.
Leaders must realize that the people of North Carolina elected Mike Morgan fairly, and all citizens, including the legislators themselves, must honor that choice and not try to nullify it.
The plan is troubling not only because of its shallow and patent politicking, but also because it will damage the institutional legitimacy of the court. The judiciary is by design an independent branch of the government, and our Constitution mandates that it stay that way.
However, a low standard at the North Carolina General Assembly is sadly not new.
Whether it was this past summer — when I personally saw former state Sen. Fletcher Hartsell leave the building after news broke that he would be indicted for multiple counts of fraud and money laundering — or a decade ago, when Democrats blatantly gerrymandered districts that allowed them to more easily place their members in office, (which the Republicans are doing now) there has been a declining standard in North Carolina politics, and it is a bipartisan one.
North Carolina’s representatives in Raleigh must fundamentally adjust the way they do business, and they must assume much greater responsibility for the vital work that they do.
While the composition of the General Assembly does not really reflect it, North Carolina is nonetheless a purple state, and any time that is the case, power is inevitably going to shift from conservative to liberal interests and back again.
All that politicians in Raleigh must do is recognize this fact and accept it. Instead of maneuvering to do whatever they can to ensure their party’s dominance, lawmakers in this state must work together to solve the toughest issues that face all North Carolinians.
In short, they must do their job.