A complete repeal of the Racial Justice Act has just one final hurdle – a vote by the full House – following a subcommittee’s approval of the bill along party lines Wednesday morning.
Sen. Thom Goolsby, a Republican from Wilmington who is spearheading the drive to resume executions in North Carolina, sparred with House Democrats on the judiciary subcommittee over the same arguments that have comprised this debate since the Racial Justice Act was enacted in 2009.
Last session, the Republican majority in the General Assembly was able to substantially gut the Act, which allows convicted killers to attempt to convince judges that their convictions were racially biased and so they should be sentenced to life in prison without parole. The law originally allowed the convicts to use statistical evidence of bias, but legislators severely restricted that last session.
“It turns our hardworking district attorneys into racists and it turns the cold-blooded first-degree murderers into alleged victims,” Goolsby said of the Racial Justice act.
Rep. Rick Glazier, a Democrat from Fayetteville, once again delivered a long and impassioned argument to uphold the Act, even if could use some improvements. Glazier said the fact that nearly all of the state’s death-row inmates have filed claims under the Act, doesn’t disprove the law is needed.
“In this state, and in many states, racial discrimination, particularly against African-Americans, has infected in a lot of ways the criminal justice system, and it particularly infected jury selection,” Glazier said. “The purpose of the Racial Justice Act was to try to find a way to get at an issue that has marred the criminal justice system for decades.”