State Politics

NC Supreme Court retention election law to be overturned

hlynch@newsobserver.com

Another North Carolina election might be unsettled because of a three-judge panel court ruling.

On Thursday, a panel of state Superior Court judges informed attorneys of their plans to strike down a 2015 law that altered how sitting state Supreme Court judges are elected.

An order was being drafted by the attorneys in the case for the judges to consider.

Only one state Supreme Court seat is up for grabs this November, that of justice Robert Edmunds.

Under the retention election rule, Edmunds would have run against his own record.

Voters would have been asked whether he should be retained in the post. Only if voters cast ballots against his retention would another candidate be able to run.

Sabra Faires, a Wake County attorney, filed a lawsuit last year asking the three-judge panel to toss out the law, arguing that moving from contested elections to up-or-down retention votes was a change that required a voter-approved amendment to the state constitution – something that did not happen.

Faires and two Wake County voters who have joined her in the lawsuit faced off against the state Board of Elections in court Tuesday afternoon.

On Thursday, attorneys with the case were notified that Superior Court Judges Anna Mills Wagoner, Lisa Bell and Ben Alford had ruled for Faires.

Josh Lawson, counsel for the state Board of Elections, confirmed Thursday that attorneys had been notified of the panel’s intentions.

If judges rule as they have indicated and an appeal is filed, the case would then go to the N.C. Supreme Court.

It was unclear on Thursday whether Edmunds would have to recuse himself from a vote on the law.

If the law is overturned, the state Board of Elections would have to set a filing period for candidates to the state’s highest court.

The announcement of the plans to overturn the law came as uncertainties about North Carolina elections abound. A three-judge panel in federal court earlier this month put a halt to elections in the 1st and 12th congressional districts until new maps were drawn. The federal judges declared the districts, drawn in 2011 by the N.C. General Assembly, to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1

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