With politics in North Carolina apparently played as gladiatorial blood sport now, an elected official putting the integrity of the government ahead of partisan gamesmanship counts as positively refreshing.
That’s what North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Douglas McCullough did April 24, resigning his seat on the bench several weeks ahead of schedule in order to stave off Republican legislators’ scheme to shrink the court’s roster from 15 judges to 12. Gov. Roy Cooper appointed former Court of Appeals Judge John Arrowood to fill the position the same day.
On Sunday afternoon Arrowood received a surprise call from the Governor, who said he had reason to believe McCullough, a Republican, might resign the next morning and asked if Arrowood, who promptly said yes, was still interested in rejoining the court.
“So I was totally shocked, I would say, because I was not expecting that,” Arrowood told Sidebar. “I think Judge McCullough has shown that he is a true statesman and someone who cares tremendously about our state’s judiciary.”
Any hopes that McCullough’s honorable actions might sway Republican legislators to reconsider their jiggery-pokery were dashed two days later when they overrode Cooper’s veto of their bill on a party-line vote. Under the law, the next three times a judge resigns or retires, that seat on the bench will be eliminated.
Last year the court disposed of 1,500 appeals and 4,456 petitions and motions, but Republican legislators argue, based on cherry-picked statistics, that its workload has decreased and so it no longer needs 15 judges—a conclusion they came to only shortly after voters elected a Democratic governor. (Funny, that.)
Thanks to McCullough’s timely resignation, it may be a while before the court feels the law’s bite. Only one judge, Robert Hunter, will reach the state’s mandatory retirement age during Cooper’s term, and not until 2019. (McCullough reaches retirement age at the end May.) In the interim, the law could dissuade judges from stepping down voluntarily.
But because the court sits in panels of three, losing even one judge would create a major headache for the court—a fact McCullough took pains to point out to your correspondent shortly after the bill was passed.