Surprise effort by NC Senate GOP to expand Supreme Court loses after House balks, likely to return

February 5th, 2013 by Bill Raftery Leave a reply »

This morning’s meeting of the North Carolina Senate Rules committee to consider SB 10, a bill to “eliminate obsolete boards and commissions” turned to a different direction when Republicans put forth an effort to expand the state’s Supreme Court by 2 seats and let the newly elected Republican governor fill the new vacancies.

According to reporting by WRAL, the hearing on SB 10 this morning quickly moved away form “obsolete boards” and instead proposed removing the existing officers from several existing boards.

Additionally, and perhaps most surprising, was an effort to expand the NC Supreme Court by 2 seats. As WRAL reported:

Another provision would have added two justices to the North Carolina Supreme Court, appointed by McCrory, which would essentially allow the governor to stack the court without an election. That provision was dropped from the bill in committee after it reportedly failed to gain support in the House GOP caucus meeting Monday.

Sen. Tom Apodaca, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, promised the concept would be revisited later this session.

The effort to expand the court from 7 to 9 would require only a statute; the state’s constitution sets the court at 7 members but provides the General Assembly may increase to either 8 or 9. (“The Supreme Court shall consist of a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices, but the General Assembly may increase the number of Associate Justices to not more than eight.”)

This is the latest effort in a series of attempts to expand/pack state supreme courts in the last several years.

Florida’s HJR 7111 of 2011, pushed for by the House’s Republican Speaker, would have split the existing Supreme Court in 2, send the justices appointed by Democratic governors to the newly created criminal section, and allowed the Republican Governor to fill vacancies in the new court(s). (Prior coverage here).

Also in 2011, a Republican Arizona Senator attempted to expand that state’s Supreme Court from 5 to 7 justices (SB 1481). That effort failed when the state’s chief justice personally testified the expansion was not needed, that the Supreme Court was fully functioning, and was not behind in its caseload. The main sponsor countered that “I just thought that I might give the opportunity for two additional attorneys to sit on the supreme court.”

 

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