North Carolina: Legislature wants to redraw all judicial districts, votes not to hold judicial primaries next year, governor vetoes, legislature overrides

Since at least 2015 North Carolina’s legislature has taken a particular interest in redrawing the maps for the state’s judicial districts (see here). Having switched to partisan judicial races in the last 12 months, the anticipation was that NC judges would run in primaries in the existing districts in the 2018. Now, however, it appears there will be no primaries at all.

SB 656, entitled the Electoral Freedom Act of 2017, includes various changes to election laws in the state. Most critically for the judiciary, however, was Section 4, which eliminates the 2019 primaries for judges and district attorneys.

North Carolina’s governor vetoed the bill, claiming in part that this denied people the right to vote on their judges and was a first step to transfer the power to select judges away from the people and to the legislature. News reports indicate a “assisted appointment” selection plan has been discussed in the North Carolina General Assembly that would effective give the legislature control over initial selection/appointment to judicial office.

The legislature then proceeded to override the veto.

Meanwhile, the effort to redraw judicial districts (HB 717) was approved by the House in October and is in the Senate.

Michigan: new laws require state court administrative office certify all veterans, drug, DWI, and mental health courts

A set of bills previously discussed here, that require Michigan judges/courts that want to operate special problem solving dockets be certified by the state court administrator’s office has been signed by that state’s governor (press release here).

SB 435 (drug courts), SB 436 (DWI/sobriety courts), SB 437 (mental health courts), and SB 438 (veterans courts) provide that existing or new problem solving courts/dockets must be certified (“The state court administrative office shall establish the procedure for certification.”) or will be shut down starting January 1, 2018.

Michigan: Senate unanimously approves bills requiring state court administrative office certify all veterans, drug, DWI, and mental health courts

A set of bills previously discussed here, that require Michigan judges/courts that want to operate special problem solving dockets be certified by the state court administrator’s office has cleared that state’s Senate (news report here).

SB 435 (drug courts), SB 436 (DWI/sobriety courts), SB 437 (mental health courts), and SB 438 (veterans courts) provide that existing or new problem solving courts/dockets must be certified (“The state court administrative office shall establish the procedure for certification.”) or will be shut down starting January 1, 2018.

The bills are “tie-barred”, meaning for one to pass, they must all pass.

The bills have now been assigned to the House Law and Justice Committee.

North Carolina: amendment to revise all or almost all of the state’s judicial election districts approved in committee but unable to advance to floor

A plan to restructure North Carolina’s entire judicial election map was approved in committee earlier this week but appears to have been blocked from a floor vote.

HB 717 as originally filed in April would have altered a few judicial election districts. The amendment, offered according to news reports with little or no notice in the House Judiciary I committee, would have instead restructured all judicial divisions and districts in the state. Opponents accused the sponsors of wanting to gerrymander the judicial districts in favor of Republicans. The lead author claimed he was correcting an existing pro-Democratic gerrymander of the districts. The author did acknowledge during the committee hearing that the new maps were drawn without input from judges, prosecutors (whose lines would also be redrawn), court clerks, or the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts.

Although the plan did come out of committee, objections to the bill swiftly reduced the odds of a floor vote in the House this session and HB 717 has been sent back to committee (Elections and Ethics Law).

Michigan: bills set for hearing next week would require state court administrative office certify all veterans, drug, DWI, and mental health courts

A set of bills up for a hearing next week in the Michigan Senate’s Judiciary Committee would require that judges/courts that want to operate special problem solving dockets would have to be certified by the state court administrator’s office.

SB 435 (drug courts), SB 436 (DWI/sobriety courts), SB 437 (mental health courts), and SB 438 (veterans courts) provide that existing or new problem solving courts/dockets must be certified (“The state court administrative office shall establish the procedure for certification.”) or will be shut down starting January 1, 2018.

The bills are “tie-barred”, meaning for one to pass, they must all pass.

The hearing is set for June 13.

North Carolina: Governor vetoes attempt to shrink Court of Appeals from 15 judges down to 12; “attempt by a political party to stack the Court of Appeals”, “unconstitutional”

North Carolina’s governor has vetoed an effort by the legislature to reduce that state’s intermediate appellate court (Court of Appeals) from 15 judges down to 12.

The veto message reads in operative part

Fewer judges will increase the court’s workload and delay the people’s access to timely appears and decisions. The bill is an attempt by a political party to stack the Court of Appeals. Additionally, I believe the legislation is unconstitutional.”

As I noted here, opponents claim the bill is a political move by the Republican controlled legislature to avoid giving the Democratic governor the power to fill interim vacancies set to occur as several members of the court are forced into mandatory retirement in the next few years. Proponents argue that that Court of Appeals’ caseload has dropped thus there isn’t the need for as many judges. They also note provisions in the bill that shift some cases directly to the Supreme Court.

The bill now goes back to the House which has scheduled an override vote for April 26.

Oklahoma: House and Senate appear to near agreement on restructuring state’s supreme court seats; bills specify 2 at-large justices come from counties with a population under 75,000

A plan to redistrict the Oklahoma Supreme Court appears nearing House and Senate agreement, with the House’s plan to require justices from more rural counties winning the day.

Currently the 9 members of the Supreme Court are appointed from 9 districts, but run statewide for yes/no retention elections.

HB 1925 as approved by the House last month and by the Senate Judiciary committee earlier this week would provide that starting in November 2017

  • 5 justices would be appointed, 1 for each Congressional District as constituted on November 1, 2017. For transition purposes, the current seats from Districts 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 would turn into Congressional-District based seats.
  • 4 justices appointed at-large, however 2 justices must come from counties with a population of less than 75,000. The current seats from Districts 2, 7, 8, and 9 would transition to at-large.

The justices would still run statewide for yes/no retention elections.