A move to reduce the N.C. Court of Appeals by three judges received tentative approval in the state Senate on Monday. A second vote is likely on Tuesday.
The judicial positions would be eliminated as each judge leaves office. Judges are required to retire when they reach age 72.
The proposal to shrink the appeals court comes as three Republican members of the court approach mandatory retirement.
Democrats say the intention of the bill is to deprive Gov. Roy Cooper the opportunity to replace retiring judges with his own selections.
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Republicans said it was because data shows the workload of the appeals court has reduced. The bill would also send more cases directly to the state Supreme Court: those involving the termination of parental rights and applications for class-action status lawsuits.