District Court judges would be allowed to join three-judge panels that hear lawsuits challenging the legislature’s actions under a bill that passed the N.C. House on Thursday.
House Bill 677 would add District Court judges to the panels at the discretion of the N.C. Supreme Court chief justice, who currently can name only Superior Court judges.
In making the case for her bill, Republican Rep. Sarah Stevens of Mount Airy did not explain why the District Court judges should serve on the panels. “It puts District Court judges in the mix,” she said.
District Court is referred to as the state’s “entry level” court, typically hearing misdemeanors and minor lawsuits, while Superior Court handles felony cases and lawsuits involving larger amounts of money.
House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson of Knightdale said he opposes the change because it might violate the state constitution, which bans the legislature from creating new courts.
“Is this bill creating a new court that is a mixture of District Court and Superior Court judges?” he said. “I think that this change is going to make this three-judge review unconstitutional.”
Thursday’s 67-48 vote was largely along party lines, with only two Democrats supporting the change and five Republicans voting against it. The bill now goes to the Senate.