Under the Dome

McCrory gets bill to change NC Supreme Court elections

Opponents of a plan for judicial retention elections say the change benefits Justice Robert Edmunds, left, pictured with other members of the N.C. Supreme Court.
Opponents of a plan for judicial retention elections say the change benefits Justice Robert Edmunds, left, pictured with other members of the N.C. Supreme Court. cseward@newsobserver.com

A plan to change how North Carolina elects its Supreme Court justices is headed to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk after a 65-49 N.C. House vote Thursday.

If the bill becomes law, judicial retention elections would begin next year – meaning voters would cast a ballot for or against the incumbent justice instead of choosing between candidates.

If the justice gets a favorable vote, he or she would then serve an eight-year term. If not, the governor would appoint someone to fill the vacancy, and that appointee would run for election two years later.

Sponsors say the change will help control increasingly expensive judicial elections. But the Senate’s changes to the bill prompted concerns from several Democrats when the bill returned to the House Thursday for a final vote.

The original House proposal would have applied the new process to N.C. Court of Appeals races as well. Because the change only applies to the Supreme Court, only one incumbent would face a retention vote next year: Justice Robert Edmunds, who’s a Republican.

“It is obvious to anybody ... we’re setting up a process for Justice Edmunds, and potentially a different process for everybody else,” said Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat, adding that the change amounts to “playing political games with the judiciary of the state.”

But Rep. Leo Daughtry, a Smithfield Republican, called on House members to accept the Senate’s changes. “Politics is the art of the possible,” he said. “We shouldn’t not concur just because we wish we had a bill that suited us.”

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