North Carolina changes way judicial vacancies are filled at District Court level, gives governor more power to pick judges

The North Carolina legislature considered several changes to judicial selection in the state in 2013. While plans to switch elections back to partisan elections from nonpartisan floundered, the push to end public financing for appellate races was approved. Additionally, a lesser known provision related to what occurs when a vacancy happens in the state’s District Courts was OKed.

Since at least the 1980s the state used a sort of merit selection process for filling a District Court vacancy that occurred due to death, retirement, or other reason. 7A-142 provided that the attorneys of the judicial district would provide the governor a list of 3 three attorneys of the same political party as the judge who left office for the Governor to select from. If the judge wasn’t elected on a partisan ballot, the local bar could submit any three attorneys. The Governor was required to select from the three names.

On Sunday July 25 the House and Senate agreed to a conference report striking these provisions. Under SB 321 as passed by the House and Senate the attorneys residing in the judicial district would submit 5 names as recommendations to the governor, who need only “give due consideration” to the names but is otherwise not bound by the list.