Under the Dome

NC House votes for partisan judicial elections

Chief Justice Mark Martin, center, gestures for Justice Robert Edmunds, left, and Paul Newby, right, to cease their applause as he takes his seat after he was sworn in as the Chief Justice of the N.C. Supreme Court in January. A bill passed in the N.C. House Thursday would make judicial elections partisan.
Chief Justice Mark Martin, center, gestures for Justice Robert Edmunds, left, and Paul Newby, right, to cease their applause as he takes his seat after he was sworn in as the Chief Justice of the N.C. Supreme Court in January. A bill passed in the N.C. House Thursday would make judicial elections partisan. cseward@newsobserver.com

The N.C. House voted 65-48 Thursday to put political party labels on candidates for N.C. Supreme Court and Court of Appeals – a move that would reverse a switch to nonpartisan races made a decade ago.

Rep. Bert Jones, a Reidsville Republican, sponsored the bill and says voters struggle to pick judicial candidates without seeing their party affiliation. About 500,000 voters skipped the Court of Appeals contest in the last election, he said.

“People are not any more or less partisan because they have to list their party affiliation on the ballot,” Jones said. “What we’re trying to do is just be open, transparent and honest about it.”

The change would not apply to local judicial races for District Court and Superior Court. Parties would select their nominee for statewide judicial seats in their primaries.

Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham Democrat, said he thinks partisan statewide courts could affect how they handle legal challenges to legislation – particularly if the same party controls both the legislative and judicial branches.

“We were dead on track trying to get partisanship out of the judges’ races,” he said, adding that the switch would make it difficult to run without joining a political party. “You’ve got the unaffiliated who can’t run for anything here because there are only three parties recognized to go on the ballot.”

A final House vote on the bill will likely take place Monday evening before it heads to the Senate.

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