Special to The Observer
Thursday, Oct. 23, 2003; The Charlotte Observer
If you enter a courtroom as a litigant, it is your right to expect
things: The judge is impartial, the judge is fair, and the judge
knowledgeable about the law.
Wouldn't you be upset if you had a case before a judge who had
an opposing position on cases such as yours during his or her
Wouldn't you be equally upset to know that your opponent in
the case was
a major campaign contributor to the judge?
Judges are not supposed to be politicians who respond to the ups
downs of public sentiment or who use their power to push an
must examine the facts, decide cases without bias, and interpret
using sound principles grounded in the state and federal constitutions.
For these reasons, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina
consistently supported "merit" selection of judges since
the North Carolina Constitution calls for judges to be elected.
It is up
to the voters and state legislature to change the constitution
implement merit selection, but a recent survey shows that 86
North Carolinians prefer to elect judges.
The League, The Charlotte Observer, N.C. Supreme Court justices,
many others may favor a change to merit selection, but that
seem likely in the near future. State legislators took the public's
into consideration when they passed the N.C. Judicial Reform
2002. The League supports this new law, which keeps but greatly
the election system for choosing N.C. Supreme Court and Court
judges, beginning in 2004.
The law takes the party labels off judicial candidates, so they
beholden to a partisan agenda. It sets up a public financing
candidates who accept fund raising limits, so they are not beholden
special interests or large campaign donors. And it creates a
Voter Guide, so voters get more information about the qualifications
professional experience of the candidates.
The public financing option and voter guide will only work if
participates. Those programs are paid for by a Public Campaign
Fund, which receives $3 for every taxpayer who marks a check-off
the 2003 N.C. income-tax form. The check-off asks people to
or No for the Public Campaign Financing Fund after this statement: "This
Fund pays for a nonpartisan voter guide and helps fund judicial
candidates who accept strict fundraising and spending limits.
agree that $3 should go to this Fund? Filling in a circle below
increase your tax or reduce your refund."
To ensure real public "ownership" of judicial elections
and to preserve
the integrity of our courts, the League urges everyone to answer "Yes"
to the new Public Campaign Financing Fund.
Whether people favor or oppose judicial merit selection isn't
question to ask right now. There's another reform, newly won
unfunded, that presents a more immediate question: If you believe
judges should be impartial and independent of political pressure,
say "Yes" to judicial fairness on your N.C. income tax
Peg Chapin of Charlotte is co-chair of the League of Women Voters