RALEIGH, N.C. — Near the top of the to-do list for many GOP members of North Carolina's newly Republican-controlled legislature will be repeal of the state's Racial Justice Act, approved during the 2009 session in a series of party-line votes.
The law allows judges to consider whether race played a role in the decision to seek or impose the death penalty, and it provides the authority to commute a death sentence to life in prison if evidence of racial bias is found.
Among the chief critics of the measure is Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam of Apex, the incoming House majority leader.
Stam and other Republican lawmakers predicted the new law would clog the courts with frivolous appeals, cost millions of dollars and impose a de facto moratorium on executions. Indeed, 119 of 159 death row inmates, many of them white, promptly filed appeals under the new law.
The N.C. Republican Party used the Racial Justice measure to hammer Democratic legislators in the run-up to the November election.
In a controversial mailer distributed to voters in Democratic districts, the N.C. Republican Party claimed the law would result in death row inmates being released to potentially move in next door. The accusation was untrue but effective. Among the Democrats targeted by the mailer who lost was Rep. Hugh Holliman of Lexington, whom Stam replaces as majority leader.