Opinion: The Last Session
The moment of post-truth: Will the legislature pack the Supreme Court?
At 10 this morning, the current incarnation of the North Carolina General Assembly will meet to conduct official business for the last time. Come January, not that much will have changed. Most of the same people will sit in the same seats, the favored outcome of a system designed and implemented by those people in those seats. One thing definitely will change, though—a new governor from a different political party. Next year, court-ordered legislative elections may loosen the majority party’s grip even more. There’s a sense suddenly that the pendulum, though tied to one side, will eventually find a way to swing back.
On the surface, it would seem to be the quickest, most uneventful, most unanimous vote-filled gathering imaginable: a special session called by the outgoing governor to enable the state’s governing body to help the victims of a hurricane and recent wildfires. But there’s a final phrase in that proclamation, “and for the purpose of addressing any other matters the General Assembly elects to consider,” and it’s that phrase that worries the hell out of Democrats and good government types in Raleigh.
On Election Day five weeks ago, Democrat Mike Morgan defeated incumbent Bob Edmunds for the only contested seat on the state Supreme Court, giving the Democrats a 4-3 majority. Less than 36 hours later, Mitch Kokai of the conservative John Locke Foundation in Raleigh posted an article—I guess just as a thought exercise—noting that the state Constitution allows the legislature to expand the number of Supreme Court seats from seven to nine. If the General Assembly were to do that, a lame-duck Governor McCrory could select two new, conservative justices to fill the freshly created seats, and the Republicans could recapture the majority.
In any other year, this would be considered the worst kind of subterranean dirty pool, because it is. But this is 2016, and the news is filled with headlines about partisan squabbles over whether to investigate the extent to which Russia helped elect the new President of the United States, so it seems unwise to assume that the abyss has any bottom. It also doesn’t help that legislative leaders have refused to say they won’t pack the court, which would settle matters ahead of time. Instead, they’ve left open the possibility of salting one more patch of earth on the way out.
And that would be all too predictable, and appropriate. For one final time, steel yourself and look at what these people have done to this state: HB2, gerrymandering on a level never before attained, a voter law so brazen and obvious in its targeting of black voters that a federal court virtually shook its head in amazement while striking it down, and much more. In retrospect, our elected representatives in Raleigh seem to have caught nearly four years early the emerging national mood that reached full flower on Election Day—that politics is rotten, everyone knows it’s rotten, it’s entirely about the acquisition and exercise of power, so what the hell difference does it make, look the voters in the eye and tell them those daffodils over there are WiFi routers, they’ll reward you at the polls for “telling it like it is.”
So keep a side-eye out over the next few days to see if they actually have the nerve to pull this court-packing scheme, and whether McCrory plays along with it. It’d be a fitting and final G.F.Y. to the Moral Monday marchers, the blue voters in the cities, those activist judges who issued those politically motivated rulings ’cause they wanted to help Hillary and Roy steal the election! You’d think they might be inclined to just let this one go, just let a special legislative session to help victims of natural disasters be that and only that—and it might. But nothing in the last four years gives me or anyone else any assurance they will. I doubt they have it in them to do nothing when, for once, it’s called for.