The North Carolina House in the last 24 hours has adopted major changes to the state’s judiciary, already sending some to the governor’s desk.
HB 100 as amended by the Senate would return races for Superior and District Courts to partisan races. The legislature in a late 2016 special session had already returned that state’s appellate races back to partisan ones. The House, having agreed to a Senate amendment, will now send HB 100 to the governor. It is unclear what the reaction will be, since the governor was the lead author of the bill making Superior Court races nonpartisan in the first place.
HB 239 approved by the full House a few hours ago is a plan to reduce the state’s Court of Appeals from 15 judges down to 12. No judges would be forced out of office, instead when a seat becomes vacant for whatever reason “the seat is abolished.” It has been sent to the Senate.
HB 240 as discussed here removes the governor’s power to fill interim vacancies in District Court and transfers that power to the legislature itself. An amendment to have the Chief Judge of the District Court or Chief Justice (if there was no Chief Judge) make the pick instead was defeated. It has been ordered engrossed and will likely go to the Senate shortly.
HB 241 as discussed here removes the power of North Carolina governors to name Special Superior Court Judges (SSCJs) and transfers that power to the legislature itself. It has been sent to the Senate.
Plans to remove the power of North Carolina’s governors to appoint some judges and transfer that authority to the legislature first discussed here continue apace.
Currently when an interim vacancy occurs in a District Court, the bar for the judicial district nominates 5 people for the governor, but the governor is free to select whomever he or she wishes. This is a change from several years ago when the bar’s 5 names were binding on the governor (Section 2 of SB 321 of 2013 as discussed here).
HB 240 as filed earlier this week would provide that where an interim vacancy occurs in a District Court judgeship the General Assembly would take the lead in this area.
- If in session, the General Assembly would pick the judge.
- If out of session, the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate could leave the vacancy open until the General Assembly comes back.
- If out of session, the Speaker/President Pro Tempore could jointly submit the name of someone to the Governor who could then “confirm the nominee” no later than 10 days later.
HB 240 has been filed in the House Judiciary IV Committee.
The last 12 hours have been very busy for judicial selection in North Carolina. I mentioned a few minutes ago that the NC House may remove the power of the state’s governor to appoint Special Superior Court Judges. In addition, the push to change North Carolina trial court elections back to partisan races cleared the Senate yesterday.
HB 100 as approved by the Senate tracks closely with the House approved version in that both would make Superior and District Court races partisan again. The differences in the versions appear to focus on how to handle unaffiliated candidates who attempt to get on the ballot.
If approved by the House again, the bill would go to the state’s Democratic governor who, while a member of the legislature, voted to make the races nonpartisan in the first place. Then-state senator Cooper was the lead sponsor of the efforts to make Superior Court races nonpartisan in the 1995 regular session (SB 961) and the ultimately successful SB 41 of the 1996 2nd Special Session. When the District Courts moved to nonpartisan in 2001 (SB 119) Cooper was Attorney General.
A plan to remove the power of North Carolina governors to name Special Superior Court Judges (SSCJs) and transfer that power to the legislature itself has been filed in the House.
SSCJs are authorized by the state’s constitution. (“The General Assembly may provide by general law for the selection or appointment of special or emergency Superior Court Judges not selected for a particular judicial district.” Art. VI, Sec. 9)
They are currently appointed by the Governor to 5 year terms and are not required to reside in the district in which they are assigned. Moreover, several SSCJs sit as the state’s Business Court.
Rather than having the Governor select SSCJs, under HB 241 as filed the General Assembly itself would make the selection.
The practice of having the legislature select judges without the state’s governor, while common in the period immediately after the American Revolution, has been effectively abandoned outside of South Carolina and Virginia. North Carolina’s prior history here is a case in point. Under the 1776 state constitution the General Assembly not only picked judges (Art. XII) and justices of the peace (Art. XXXIII) they also picked the Governor (Art. XV). Those judicial selection provisions lasted until 1868 when judges were changed over to an elected position.
HB 241 has been filed in the House Judiciary IV Committee.
A bill filed in the North Carolina House earlier this week would overhaul the way the state’s magistrate judges operate. HB 126 as filed
- Directs the Administrative Office of the Courts to develop a code of conduct for all magistrates by July 1, 2018.
- Gives chief district court judges the authority to discipline magistrates including a letter of caution, a written reprimand, or up to a 10-day suspension without pay.
- Allows magistrates to be assigned to temporary duty in another county; current law only allows for such a move “during an emergency.”
- Requires chief district court judges of each county to appoint a chief magistrate.
HB 126 has been filed in the House Judiciary III Committee.
The North Carolina House Elections Committee earlier today approved HB 100, a bill to return the state’s trial court (Superior & District) races to partisan. Media reports here. The bill follows laws enacted in the last 2 years to make appellate races (Supreme Court and Court of Appeals) partisan.
As I noted when this issue came up in 2015, the trend in other states has been away from partisan races and towards nonpartisan ones. As recently as 24 hours ago a New Mexico constitutional amendment to move that state from partisan to nonpartisan judicial races cleared a key committee (discussed here).
- 2015: West Virginia ended partisan elections for all courts via statute discussed here
- 2000: Arkansas voters approved Amendment 80, a rewrite of the state’s Judiciary Article, which included nonpartisan elections for all judges.
- 1994: Mississippi’s legislature enacted the Nonpartisan Judicial Elections Act, moving all judicial races (except Justice of the Peace Court) to nonpartisan.
Last December the North Carolina legislature in a special session returned appellate court races in that state back to partisan contests. Now the push to return trial court races to partisan ones is set for the 2017 session.
HB 100 as filed earlier this week would make Superior and District Court races partisan affairs starting in January 2018. Superior Courts (the state’s general jurisdiction court) have been nonpartisan since a 1996 law while the District Court races (the state’s sole limited jurisdiction court) have been nonpartisan since a 2001 enactment as discussed here.
HB 100 has been filed in the House Elections and Ethics Law Committee.