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.

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).

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.

North Carolina: Plans to shrink Court of Appeals clear Senate committee; already approved by full House

Plans to reduce the North Carolina Court of Appeals from 15 members down to 12 have cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee having been previously approved by the full House.

HB 239 would reduce the court from 15 to 12 by attrition; no judges would lose their office. Opponents claim it 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.

HB 239 now goes to the Senate Rules Committee.

North Carolina: Bill dealing with enhanced penalties for threats and assaults against judges, clerks, and court staff introduced

A North Carolina bill (HB 492) to increase penalties for attacks and threats on judges, clerks, and other court staff was introduced in the House earlier this week.

G.S. § 14?16.6 makes it a Class I felony to assault a “court officer” which includes judges/justices, magistrates, clerks of superior court, acting clerks, assistant or deputy clerks, and others. If a deadly weapon is used or serious bodily injury occurs, this is increased to a Class F felony. Under HB 492 this would increase to a Class H or Class E felony, respectively.

G.S. § 14?16.7 makes it a Class I felony to threaten to inflict serious bodily injury upon or to kill a “court officer”. Under HB 492 this would increase to a Class H felony.

Finally, for other court employees, HB 492 makes “simple assault” on any officer or employee of state or local government a Class I felony. State law (G.S. § 14?33) otherwise makes “simple assault” a Class 2 misdemeanor.

HB 492 has been filed in the House State and Local Government I Committee.

North Carolina: Senate overrides governor, state’s trial courts will go back to partisan elections; appellate races returned to partisan in December 2016

The North Carolina Senate has voted to override the governor’s veto of HB 100, a bill to take return the state’s trial court races back to partisan contests. The House had voted to override earlier this week (discussed here).

The legislature had already in a December 2016 special session moved to take appellate races in the state back to partisan.

North Carolina: governor vetoes bill to shift trial court races back to partisan contests; override vote set

A plan to switch North Carolina’s trial court races back to partisan contests was vetoed by Governor Roy Cooper. In his veto message for HB 100 Cooper indicated

North Carolina wants its judges to be fair and impartial, and partisan politics has no place on the judges’ bench. We need less politics in the courtroom, not more.

Judges make tough decisions on child abuse, divorce, property disputes, drunk driving, domestic violence and other issues that should be free from politics. This bill reverses that progress.

We should let people elect judges based on their experience and ability to do the job, not which party they pick.

I am also concerned that judges who have chosen to register as unaffiliated voters so as to avoid partisan politics now have a difficult path to getting on the ballot.

A vote to override the veto in the House is set for March 22. The original vote in the House was 65-51 with 1 not voting and 3 absent; proponents would need 3/5ths of those present and voting (60 votes) to override in the House. In the Senate the vote was 32-15 with 3 absent; they would 30 to override.