Easley’s tough call

First Posted: 1/15/2009

A judge, if he or she is worthy of sitting on the bench, must dispense justice dispassionately, and certainly without regard to something as inconsequential as a defendant’s race. So it would follow that a judge’s race would also be unimportant.
But not in Robeson County, where too often race is the first consideration.
With Gov. Mike Easley poised to appoint a replacement for outgoing Superior Court Judge Gary Locklear, race is poisoning the argument over who should be his replacement. The Lumbee Tribal Council has endorsed District Court Judge Greg Bell, an American Indian, and the Robeson County Black Caucus favors John B. Carter, who is black.
We are confident that whoever is selected will carry out the assignment free from prejudice, just as they have performed their duties in District Court.
The debate is being had because two decades ago, racial tensions were high in Robeson County following the takeover of this newspaper, the murder of judicial candidate Julian Pierce and the merger of the county’s school systems. American Indians were particularly agitated, as Pierce was a candidate for a Superior Court judgeship, and his death guaranteed the election of former District Attorney Joe Freeman Britt, a white, to that seat.
Then Gov. Jim Martin, in an effort to douse the rising flames, created a Superior Court judgeship and appointed an American Indian, the late Dexter Brooks, to the seat. Locklear replaced Brooks when he died in 2002.
The Superior Court seat, accurately or not, has been viewed as the property of an American Indian, which the Tribal Council pointed out when it passed a resolution Dec. 18 asking Easley to appoint Bell. If Locklear is not replaced by an American Indian, then there will be no American Indian Superior Court judge in North Carolina.
But the Black Caucus argues the seat was created for a minority — and not an Indian. It’s true that the coalition that successfully lobbied Martin to create the seat included blacks and Indians. Moreover, a black has never held a Superior Court judgeship in Robeson County.
While it would be hard to find consensus on who is the best candidate to replace Locklear, on this we should all agree: As Robeson County prepares to enter 2009, it’s political landscape has shifted dramatically since 1989. American Indians are entrenched in positions of power, and although blacks don’t have as firm a grip on the steering wheel as do Indians, they are fairly represented in all branches of local government, including the judiciary.
It is for those reasons that we hope Easley selects the candidate who can best perform the duties that will be required. That isn’t an endorsement since we aren’t qualified to identify that candidate.

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