In the first year in decades that all judicial races will be partisan races, North Carolina will not have primary elections that allow the political parties to winnow the names of candidates who will appear on ballots this fall.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles notified attorneys for the Democratic Party and North Carolina lawmakers on Tuesday that she plans to rule for the legislators in a lawsuit filed late last year.
The North Carolina Democratic Party contended that abolishing primary elections for judicial races violated its right to assemble and choose a candidate of its choice to appear on the ballot.
Eagles announced her decision as the filing period opened for candidates seeking the 140 judicial seats up for election this November.
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"Republicans canceled an election and then ran out the clock on any effort to restore voters’ right to choose their judges," Wayne Goodwin, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party. "While we’ll wait to see the full order before discussing the impact, today’s decision is a blow to North Carolina voters and rewards a Republican party determined to further rig our courts before losing power this November."
On Monday, there was much confusion in counties such as Wake and Mecklenburg, where the Republican-led General Assembly created new election districts for judges.
Over the weekend, Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed that bill, meaning the old districts that had been in place for years were the ones that candidates filed for on Monday.
Lawmakers have said they plan to come back to override Cooper’s veto.
They have spent much of the past few years proposing changes to the courts that rule on the constitutionality of their laws.
Democrats have complained that doing away with primary elections for the statewide races could set up a scenario in which numerous candidates could run for a seat and the party would not have the ability to winnow the field to their candidate of choice. It also could mean that a candidate could be elected with less than 30 percent of the vote
Eagles did not provide her reasoning for rejecting the party’s argument. She plans to file a fuller order.
Eagles ruled earlier this year that the Democratic Party was likely to be successful in the case and reinstated primaries for statewide races.
But a panel of judges from the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned her ruling in a 2-1 decision.
“We conclude that at this stage of the case, appellees have not met their burden in any respect,” Judges Paul V. Neimeyer, a George H.W. Bush nominee, and Judge Stephanie D. Thacker, a Barack Obama appointee, stated in their ruling. Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, a Bill Clinton nominee, voted against it.
The judges added little else to their order, putting Eagles in a quandary at the trial. She asked attorneys how the evidence presented on Thursday was different from what they put forward in January. She asked what would be different this time, if the judges had not agreed with her previously.
Marvin Warf, an attorney representing the lawmakers, argued that nothing was different.
Edwin Speas and John Wallace, attorneys for the Democrats, disagreed.
They argued that the Democratic Party had been unduly burdened, and that lawmakers could have achieved their goal of studying judicial redistricting without eliminating primary elections.