Harrell v. Wilson: What’s at Stake?

IT’S MORE THAN A SPAT BETWEEN POLITICIANS

One June 24, 2014, the Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether Judge Casey Manning ruled properly when he shut down the Attorney General’s grand jury investigation of House Speaker Bobby Harrell. This isn’t about one or two politicians. It’s about whether a class of elite legislators can bend the judicial system to their will and gain immunity from criminal prosecution. Here’s the background…

THE BACKGROUND

Legislative leaders already run state government.

  • The legislature controls large segments of the executive branch through appointments to scores of regulatory boards.
  • The legislature unilaterally elects judges. The House Speaker has even placed his brother on the committee that screens judges.
  • Three politicians in General Assembly – the Speaker of the House, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and the Senate President Pro Tempore – aren’t elected statewide yet exercise vast control over all three branches of government. They control more than 150 executive branch appointments, and they sit on the state’s most powerful agency boards.

The Supreme Court has a history of doing the legislature’s bidding. Recent examples:

  • In 2011, the Court ruled that lawmakers, despite a clear ban on dual office-holding, can sit on powerful boards while holding office as lawmakers. Indeed, one powerful state senator had carved out exceptions for himself to the constitutional ban, and the Court let it stand.
  • In 2012, the Court sided threw every challenger in state elections off the ballot, and allowed incumbents to stay on. The Court did this by insisting on a clearly unfair technicality, despite the fact that incumbent lawmakers had not been held to that standard.

POTENTIAL CONSEQUENCES

The Court could make an already all-powerful class of legislators practically immune from prosecution on corruption charges. Lawmakers would potentially only have to face their colleagues on the ethics committees if they stood accused of . . .

  • Bribery.
  • Flagrant conflicts of interest – introducing, supporting, and/or voting on legislation by which they profit.
  • Using official positions for financial gain.
  • Bullying or strong-arming regulators for financial gain.
  • Promoting immediate family members to boards lawmakers supervise.
  • Refusing to disclose state contracts by which lawmakers profit.
  • Using campaign accounts as slush funds.

(Download .pdf of this fact sheet.)

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