Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday vetoed his first bill, one that would restore partisan judicial elections.
The bill’s author said the General Assembly would vote to override the new governor’s first veto.
The legislation, House Bill 100, would make District Court and Superior Court judicial candidates go through a party primary. Under the bill, general election ballots would include the candidates’ party affiliations. Candidates who aren’t registered with a political party would need to go through a petition process to get their names on the ballot.
Superior Court elections were switched from partisan to nonpartisan in 1996, and state leaders made the same change for District Court in 2001.
Cooper’s veto message said judges should be elected based on their experience and ability, not their political party. He said candidates who register unaffiliated to avoid partisan labels have a harder time getting on the ballot because they must obtain signatures from at least 2 percent of the voters in their election districts.
“North Carolina wants its judges to be fair and impartial, and partisan politics has no place on the judges’ bench,” Cooper said. “We need less politics in the courtroom, not more.
“Judges make tough decisions on child abuse, divorce, property disputes, drunk driving, domestic violence and other issues that should be free from politics. This bill reverses that progress.”
The original version of the bill was somewhat more controversial within the legislature. It passed 65-51 with six Republicans opposing it.
After a rewrite in the Senate, that chamber approved it 32-15 strictly along party lines, and the House followed with a 74-43 vote; Rep. Nelson Dollar of Cary was the only Republican to vote against it.
Support from three-fifths of lawmakers present and voting in each chamber would be required for an override.
Republicans say voters should know what judicial candidates’ political affiliations are.
Rep. Justin Burr, a Republican from Albemarle who is a primary sponsor of the bill, noted Cooper led the effort to remove political affiliation from judicial elections when he was a state senator in the 1990s.
“It comes as no surprise now that as governor, he is still trying to keep this valuable information from being listed on the voters’ ballots,” Burr said. “Gov. Cooper should stop trying to make it harder for voters to know where the judicial candidates stand on the issues that matter to them. I look forward to providing the governor with his first veto override in the near future.”
Amy Auth, deputy chief of staff for Senate leader Phil Berger, issued a statement blaming a lack of information on the gap of almost 800,000 fewer voters who cast ballots in the 2016 state Supreme Court election than in the presidential race.
“Surely, Gov. Cooper does not wish to suppress voter turnout in our judicial races,” Auth said.