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Editorial: Judge’s ruling reflects legislative overreach more than judicial activism

February 27, 2019

CBC Editorial: Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019; Editorial #8395 The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

State Sen. Phil Berger may be a lawyer by profession, but he might be angling for a job as a carnival barker or street hustling illusionist.

He’s been in distraction overdrive since a Wake County Superior Court judge last week ruled that two constitutional amendments the legislature placed on the 2018 ballot should not have been there. Three organizations challenged the placement of the amendments on the ballot – one limiting the state income tax rate and another to require voter ID – because it was done by a legislature filled with representatives from illegally gerrymandered districts.

Don’t get us wrong. The decision by Judge Bryan Collins is important and controversial. We’ll leave it to the lawyers and appeals court judges to sort it all out.

Berger, the Republican Party’s most visible and powerful elected state official, complains about “an unrestrained judiciary advancing political theories and political agendas.” But he’s just distracting attention away from those who really are to blame for the confusion.

Berger would best look into the mirror for the source of his discontent.

Here’s what he’ll see.

His own reflection, along with fellow legislative leaders including former state House Speaker, now U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and current Speaker Tim Moore who engineered congressional and legislative gerrymandering schemes that have repeatedly been declared illegal following court challenges.

The effort to rig elections has cast a cloud of uncertainty over nearly every legislative action.

It is Berger and his fellow legislative leaders who have sought to make the state’s judiciary MORE partisan – by passing laws that required political affiliations be placed on ballots, detoured the state’s movement toward nonpartisan election of judges and abolished the system of public funding for judicial campaigns. Berger and his colleagues even manipulated the order of names on judicial ballots to give his son an edge in the 2016 judicial elections.

It is Berger and his fellow legislative leaders who passed laws, later struck down, to manipulate the governor’s authority to fill vacancies on the court. They created three-judge panels to hear lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the laws they passed – aimed at giving the legislature an edge in such cases. They’ve even sought to change the number of judges on the Court of Appeals to shift the balance toward the GOP.

It is Berger and his fellow legislative leaders whose repeated efforts to rejigger and reshape the State Board of Elections to bend it to their will that fostered delays and confusion in resolving hotly and closely contested elections – most notably the discredited absentee voting in the 9th Congressional District.

Phil Berger can rant and rave all he wants about judicial activism – but the truth is the roots of his frustration have nothing to do with judges.

He and other legislative leaders would have little to complain about if -- rather than obsessively working to rig laws to impose their rigid ideology and make it easier for Republicans to win elections -- they’d focus on making North Carolina a better place to learn and live.