RALEIGH – The news that N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin was retiring came as a surprise to many. His early departure to take a job as a Dean of Regent University Law School in Virginia meant that the next election for the high court was pulled forward by two years.
Still, even though the people will have a chance to weigh in on who ultimately replaces Martin, a Republican, on the bench, Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper has the constitutional authority of filling the vacancy in the interim.
With Cooper’s past political actions as context, it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t use this opportunity for political gain. After all, he’s gone on record assuming the Democratic majority on the high court would rule in his favor on big separation of powers cases between his office and the Republican General Assembly. As such, he’d seem more inclined to fill the vacancy with a jurist more similar to Justice Anita Earls, a social justice warrior, than, say, Justice Paul Newby, a conservative originalist.
However, the voters that elected Mark Martin to the Supreme Court would be getting the short end of the stick if he were replaced by a jurist with a markedly different approach to interpreting constitutional law. To that point, dozens of Republican state lawmakers signed a letter urging Cooper to put voters ahead of politics.
ICYMI: Over 50 of my @NCHouseGOP colleagues sent a letter today to @NC_Governor urging him to respect the will of the voters by replacing Chief Justice Martin w/someone who has a similar ideological background & pedigree. https://t.co/kg6i7jfFb2 #ncpol #NCGA pic.twitter.com/MLjCemutQy
— Rep. John Bell (@JohnBellNC) February 1, 2019
Do you think Cooper will heed their call? Color me skeptical. Cooper has routinely put his party’s Leftist platform ahead of the blatant will of the people such as his veto of legislation to implement Voter ID AFTER a majority of voters supported such a Constitutional Amendment.
It’d be a great, out of character development if Cooper decided to replace Martin with someone sporting a similar ‘ideology and pedigree,’ as the lawmakers out it, but I won’t be holding my breath.
Additionally, this very predicament puts the proposed Constitutional Amendment to place the power to fill judicial vacancies in the legislature into perspective. Had that amendment passed muster with voters, the power to fill these important vacancies wouldn’t be in the hands of one politician taking political advice in a dark room. Instead it’d be an observable process handled in the legislature to screen and approve nominees for the governor to select from.
Chief Justice Mark Martin’s surprise retirement is exactly the kind of situation that calls for such an amendment.