On Friday, July 21, 2023, the Carolina Public Press reported ex-judges, lawyers, professionals, and legislators at the state level have criticized the alterations put forth by the North Carolina Senate concerning the Judicial Standards Commission. This commission serves as an ethical entity overseeing judicial behavior, and the proposed changes are being viewed as jeopardizing the autonomy of the judiciary.

The Carolina Public Press, in part one of its report, informed that in recent months, North Carolina’s courts have made crucial rulings on various significant matters, ranging from gerrymandering to voter IDs. While much attention has been devoted to these court verdicts and their implications, the underlying structure of the judiciary tends to be disregarded. The North Carolina Senate has recently proposed alterations to the Judicial Standards Commission, the ethical body of the judiciary, as part of the state budget. Although these modifications could bring about significant transformations to the commission,  the report stated that only a limited number of North Carolinians, those beyond the legal realm, comprehend the role and necessity of the Judicial Standards Commission.

Carolina Public Press explained that the proposed alterations to the makeup of the N.C. Judicial Standards Commission is currently under consideration. The Senate’s suggested modifications have sparked inquiries into the purpose of the commission. Esteemed former judges underscore the commission’s significance as the ethical cornerstone of the judiciary, asserting its critical role in preserving the credibility of the judicial framework.

Detractors argue that the revisions to the commission amplify the partisan nature of the appointment procedure by granting greater authority to the General Assembly for making choices, the report explained. Moreover, certain proponents hold the view that the suggested modifications could diminish potential conflicts of interest when judges preside over their colleagues. They perceive these changes as minor administrative tweaks that would not substantially alter the commission’s approach to addressing cases of judicial misconduct. Should the budget be approved, the provision would entail a substitution of attorney appointments with judges, effectively granting judges a majority presence on the JSC. These modifications are perceived as aligned with a wider nationwide pattern where state legislatures are introducing measures that seek to inject politics into or compromise the autonomy of state courts.

Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham said, “I am disturbed by this new proposal because I think it makes it a more partisan process, I fear that this new structure for the Judicial Standards Commission could be used to politically attack a judge or justice.” However, some say the courts were partisan before these changes. Dallas Woodhouse, the North Carolina executive director of the American Majority conservative nonprofit organization, stated “It’s always been partisan, it’s just that the Democrats  don’t like the partisan direction of the judiciary or the legislature,”

Should the budget be successfully ratified and the JSC undergo alteration, North Carolina would find itself in a unique position as one of merely two states across the United States without attorney appointments within its judicial standards commission. While the majority of states incorporate at least one or more attorneys into their judicial standards commissions, North Carolina would stand out by not having lawyer appointments within its commission. According to experts, the inclusion of attorneys within the Judicial Standards Commission holds significance in upholding judicial integrity, and equity, and fostering public confidence in the legal system.


Source: Carolina Public Press