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Former State Supreme Court Justices Join In Opposition To Proposed Constitutional Amendments

Jess Clark / WUNC

All of the living former state Supreme Court Chief Justices have voiced their opposition to two of the six proposed amendments to the state constitution. The opposition comes as Republican leaders in the General Assembly are gearing up to re-write the amendments, after this week’s ruling to keep them off of the November ballot.

In a statement posted on WRAL’s website Thursday, the six former justices — Rhonda B. Billings, James G. Exum, Henry E. Frye, I. Beverly Lake, Burley B. Mitchell and Sarah E. Parker — joined with a number of “concerned lawyers” against the proposed amendments. The five living former governors also made a similar, bipartisan statement earlier this month.

In Thursday’s statement, the justices and lawyers argued that Senate Bill 914, which legislators say would make the process to fill judicial vacancies more transparent, is partisan. They argued the proposal gives legislators the “unrestricted authority to narrow the field of nominees to two, on a purely partisan basis, without regard for merit.”

They also criticized House Bill 913, which would change the way appointments are made to the state elections board, saying that it allocates too much power away from the governor to the General Assembly, and threatens the state’s separation of powers.

“All of us will vote against these two amendments,” the justices and lawyers said. “We urge you to vote against them. And, we urge you to join us in advocating for their defeat.”

A panel of judges voted 2-1 Tuesday to pull the amendments from the November ballot, arguing that the language was misleading to voters. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the NAACP had sued to stop them. 

Republican leaders in the General Assembly announced a schedule Thursday for a special session to re-write the amendments in a way that would pass the scrutiny of the courts. Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore said the session would be called to begin Friday, with a vote on the new amendments in the House. The Senate would vote on them Monday.