Judicial selection in North Carolina

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Judicial selection in the states
Judicial selection in North Carolina
Seal of North Carolina.png
North Carolina Supreme Court
Method:   Non-partisan election of judges
Term:   8 years
North Carolina Court of Appeals
Method:   Non-partisan election of judges
Term:   8 years
North Carolina Superior Courts
Method:   Non-partisan election of judges
Term:   8 years
North Carolina District Courts
Method:   Non-partisan election of judges
Term:   4 years

North Carolina judges are elected by the voters of the state in non-partisan elections. North Carolina is one of 13 states that utilizes the non-partisan system of election.

Supreme Court

Justices of the North Carolina Supreme Court are elected in non-partisan elections to eight-year terms. If a vacancy occurs mid-term, the governor appoints a justice to serve. If she or he would like to continue serving, the new justice must run for election to the seat in the next election, as long as its more than sixty days after the appointment.[1]

North Carolina is one of seven states in which the Chief Justice is elected by voters.

Judicial Campaign Reform Act

In 2002, the Judicial Campaign Reform Act was passed by the General Assembly. With this, the legislature made the appellate courts (the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals) the last in the state to participate in non-partisan judicial elections. Also, the act allowed for public financing of statewide judicial candidate elections. The public financing program was the first of its kind enacted for judicial races in the nation. Money to support it came from the choice of residents to check a box on their tax return forms, lawyer fees and private donations.[2]

Voter Information Verification Act

In 2013, campaign finance laws were amended by the General Assembly in House Bill 589, effective in 2014. Some of these changes include:

  • No more public financing for judicial candidates. Candidates who qualified used to receive $250,000 to finance their campaigns. All 8 candidates for statewide judicial offices qualified for public financing in 2012. Most of the funding came from voluntary fees.
  • The amount an individual donor may contribute to a judicial candidate increased from $1,000 to $5,000.
  • There are no limits on the amount an individual can donate to independent organizations which may use the money to promote or attack candidates.
  • Candidates no longer have to appear in an ad to say they approved it or list their top 5 donors in print ads.[3][4][5]

Court of Appeals

Judges of the North Carolina Court of Appeals are elected to eight-year terms in non-partisan elections. If a vacancy occurs mid-term, the governor appoints a justice to serve. If she or he would like to continue serving, the new justice must run for election to the seat in the next election, as long as its more than sixty days after the appointment.

History

The Court of Appeals was created in 1967.[6] Non-partisan elections were established for this level of court at the same time as the Supreme Court, in 2002.

Superior Court

Judges of the North Carolina Superior Courts are elected in non-partisan elections and serve eight-year terms. A vacancy on the court is filled via gubernatorial appointment and the interim judge must compete in the next election to stay on the court. The difference between the appellate and Superior Courts is that judges on the latter serve the remainder of the unexpired term, as opposed to a new eight-year term.[1] Judges were elected in non-partisan elections at this level starting in 1996.

District Courts

Judges of the North Carolina District Courts serve four-year terms and are elected in non-partisan elections. Judges were elected in non-partisan elections at this level starting in 2001.

Qualifications for judgeships

To qualify for a judgeship in North Carolina, an individual must:

Reform efforts

Since 1971, in almost every legislative session, some method of change was proposed for the state's process of judicial selection. Most of them have revolved around incorporating the system of merit selection, or Commission-selection, political appointment method of judicial selection.

Before 2011, there were six substantial attempts to alter the state's method of judicial selection.

  • 1974: A bill to adopt merit selection made it through two readings in the House of Representatives.
  • 1977: A bill to adopt merit selection failed in the House.
  • 1989: The Senate passed a bill adopting merit selection for appellate judges. It was not passed in the House.
  • 1991: The Senate passed a bill adopting merit selection with confirmation by the legislature. It never got out committee in the House.
  • 1995: The Senate passed a bill adopting merit selection with confirmation by the legislature. It did not received 3/5 vote in the House.
  • 1999: Same as 1995. [8]

2011

The gains made in state houses by the Republican Party in the 2010 election reverberated across the nation in proposed changes to judicial selection. In the first four months of 2011, 64 measures proposing changes were introduced in statehouses nationwide.[9][10]

Judicial nomination panel created

In April, Governor Bev Perdue issued Executive Order 86 to create a statewide panel that screens applicants for the state appellate courts and the Superior Courts. Along with legal qualifications, the North Carolina Judicial Nominating Commission must consider diversity, gender, ethnicity and geography of the applicants as well. The statewide panel will select the names of three nominees to forward to the governor, who will appoint one.[11][12]

North Carolina State Legislative Office Building

Legislative action

2011 has been a busy year for the North Carolina State Legislature. Like many other states with Republican dominated assemblies, legislators in North Carolina made judicial selection a priority. In June, the North Carolina House of Representatives passed a bill (67-51) that would return to the partisan election of judges. Proponents feel party labels provide voters with more insight into a judicial candidate and acknowledge the role political parties play in weeding out less qualified candidates. Opponents to the bill unquestionably disagree with partisan labels for judges.[13]

The bill was not passed by the North Carolina Senate before recess in June, but is expected to be voted on once the body reconvenes in July 2011.[14] It is assumed that the bill will pass in the Senate as well, since it is comprised of a majority Republican base.[15]

Before anything becomes law, it needs to signature of Governor Bev Perdue, who has not commented publicly on the matter. Perdue is a Democrat and has already vetoed voting legislation from the House in June 2011.[16]

Bar Association plan

In an effort to fight the tide toward a return to partisan elections, the North Carolina Bar Association proposed a different plan for altering judicial selection in the state. The unique idea would allow the bar association to nominate two individuals to fill a vacancy and the governor would appoint one of those two. Both nominees would then run in the next election and the winner would take office. The new judge would be subject to retention elections every eight years.[17]

The proposal is unique and has generated conversation in the state. Following a hearing on April 28, the Senate took no further action on the proposed measure. Such a sweeping change would ultimately need to be approved by voters in the form of a constitutional amendment.[18]

Public financing struck down in federal court

On May 18, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Louise Flanagan struck down parts of North Carolina's public financing program for outspent appellate court candidates. The program provides extra funds to help candidates who are outspent by privately-funded opponents.

Two committees representing the anti-abortion group North Carolina Right to Life argued against the matching fund provisions, pointing to a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that struck down a similar program in Arizona. They said that it limits free political speech.

Judge Flanagan agreed with the committees, writing, "The court finds that the North Carolina matching funds statute is unduly burdensome and not sufficiently justified to survive First Amendment scrutiny."[19]

The decision was based off of the precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court decision. In that case, justices determined that such rescue funds did not help level the playing field or reduce corruption, as supporters of the provisions had argued.

The decision will not affect this year's elections, since the N.C. State Board of Elections had already decided not to offer any matching funds to 2012 judicial candidates. In the future, state Supreme and Appellate Court candidates may still receive some public funding assistance, since Judge Flanagan only ruled against portions of the program.[19]

See also

External links

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 American Judicature Society, Methods of Judicial Selection: North Carolina
  2. NCjudges.org, The Judicial Campaign Reform Act
  3. Huffington Post, "North Carolina Legislature Repeals Popular 'Voter Owned Elections' Program," July 26, 2013
  4. www.wral.com, "Voting changes head to governor," July 26, 2013
  5. General Assembly of North Carolina: "HOUSE BILL 589, Ratified," Session 2013
  6. American Judicature Society, History of Reform Efforts: North Carolina
  7. Methods of Judicial Selection: North Carolina
  8. American Judicature Society, History of Reform Efforts: North Carolina
  9. National Center for the State Courts, Gavel to Gavel: "Merit Selection," April 14, 2011
  10. Columbia Daily Tribune, "GOP targets judicial selection," November 28, 2010
  11. NBC17, "Perdue forms panel to help with NC judge decisions," April 5, 2011
  12. Office of the North Carolina Governor, Press Release: "Gov. Perdue Takes Step to Remove Politics from Judicial Appointments," April 5, 2011
  13. Charlotte Observer, "Bill backs partisan judicial races," June 8, 2011
  14. Citizen Times, "NC Bar: Judges, politics don't mix," June 23, 2011
  15. Ballotpedia, North Carolina State Senate
  16. North Carolina Governor vetoes voter ID bill
  17. Real Clear Politics, "Thursday at the North Carolina General Assembly," April 28, 2011
  18. Charlotte Observer, "Change floated for choosing Superior, appellate judges," April 29, 2011
  19. 19.0 19.1 NECN, "Judge agrees NC matching funds provision unlawful," May 21, 2012
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