We’ve heard from a lot of people saying they might just not vote in November — thanks to some sorry choices on the ballot for the US Senate, Congress, and other offices. (There are some viable third party and write-in options to consider there.)
There are some pretty important judicial races on the November ballot. Every year it seems like judges are having a more and more significant impact on law-making. There is also a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot that has received very little media attention.
In May 2012, we voted to amend the state constitution in the name of protecting religious freedom and the institution of marriage. In November, 2014, we’ve got statist-types trying to get us to vote away our right to a jury trial. We’ve posted on this earlier. But our friends at PunditHouse in Charlotte have come out with a great piece this week elaborating further:
[…] So what will the voters be voting to amend in November you ask? Unless a change is made during the remainder of the current short legislative session, Senate Bill 399 (Session Law 2013-300) introduced by former Sen. Pete Brunstetter and passed last year by a unanimous Senate vote and near unanimous vote in the House (except for the lone dissenting vote by Rep. Michael Speciale) will ask voters to amend Sec. 24 of Art. I of the North Carolina Consitution – the Right of a jury trial in criminal cases. Sec. 24 currently reads:
Sec. 24. Right of jury trial in criminal cases.
No person shall be convicted of any crime but by the unanimous verdict of a jury in open court. The General Assembly may, however, provide for other means of trial for misdemeanors, with the right of appeal for trial de novo.
And if approved by the voters in November, Sec. 24 will be revised to read:
No person shall be convicted of any crime but by the unanimous verdict of a jury in open court, except that a person accused of any criminal offense for which the State is not seeking a sentence of death in superior court may, in writing or on the record in the court and with the consent of the trial judge, waive jury trial, subject to procedures prescribed by the General Assembly. The General Assembly may, however, provide for other means of trial for misdemeanors, with the right of appeal for trial de novo. (2013-300, s. 1.)
I have emailed both my state representative, Rep. Charles Jeter, and state senator, Sen. Jeff Tarte, to ask why they voted in support of this bill. Rep. Jeter responded in a timely manner as he often does and, after a brief email exchange, we spoke on the phone and I was able to explain my concerns with the amendment. I was able to ask Sen. Tarte about his vote during his recent town hall meeting in Huntersville on June 20 and he essentially admitted the only reason he voted in favor was in deference to those in the legislature who knew more about legal issues than he does – not uncommon in any legislative body, but a wholly insufficient reason in my opinion when voting on something as important as amending a constitutional right.
Anytime the state seeks to amend a constitutional right, especially one as vital as the right to a jury trial, the state should bear the extremely high burden of demonstrating why this is necessary. I do not believe this has been done in the case of Senate Bill 399. While the right to waive a jury trial does exist in Federal Court and in some other states (e.g., Rule 14 of the South Carolina Rules of Criminal Procedure), I do not believe this is reason enough for North Carolina to amend our constitution. […]
My antennae always go up when I hear about efforts to water-down rights specifically spelled out in our Founding Documents. We’ve had politicians trying to clamp down on bloggers’ First Amendment rights. Blogging isn’t really journalism, they tell us. For years, our Second Amendment rights have been trampled on. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, many in Congress are trying to craft legislation that suggests my and your religious / moral principles don’t mean squat when it comes to the demands and desires of the leviathan in DC. Don’t want to officiate a gay wedding, cater a gay wedding, or invest in a health plan that pays for abortions? Say hello to Mr. Holder and his army of lawyers.
Take note and act whenever you hear some government type talk about giving up a few rights here and there for the sake of efficiency or security. Throughout history, tyranny has always taken root slowly, in bits and pieces, before growing explosively like kudzu. Show up in November and shoot this sucker down.