I’ve written about the ever growing interest in state legislatures lately to add, or reduce, the number of members of their courts of last resort. Arizona did it this year. So did Georgia. Now, a plan first circulated in 2013 in North Carolina to expand that state’s supreme court from 7 to 9 members, this time in a lame duck special session, may be in the offing and might allow a governor (who could be voted out of office, the ballots are still being counted) to pick the 2 new justices.
News reports indicate plans are circulating among legislative leaders to expand the court in a December special session called to deal with the impact of Hurricane Matthew. While the constitution (Art. II, Sec. 24) gives a list of things a special session cannot consider like bridges and juror pay, the supreme court’s not on that list.
And as to the supreme court, North Carolina is a “minimum/maximum” state: the constitution provides a minimum number of justices (Chief Justice + six Associate Justices) but then provides “the General Assembly may increase the number of Associate Justices to not more than eight.” And unlike 26 states, the legislature is free to do this on their own: they don’t need voter approval (24 states) or the court’s consent (Alaska and South Dakota).
This is just the latest attempt to expand the NC Supreme Court. As I noted in 2013, there was a surprise GOP amendment added to an unrelated bill that was popped into a Senate Rules Committee hearing without warning. It was beaten back only when the House Republican caucus failed to support it.