News: Quick Takes

Court Nixes Judicial Retention Elections

N.C. Supreme Court's 3-3 tie upholds Superior Court decision that the new law did not pass constitutional muster

The N.C. Supreme Court on Friday let stand a lower court’s order that threw out the state’s new judicial retention election for Supreme Court justices.

The Supreme Court was equally divided, with three justices in favor of upholding a lower panel’s ruling that the new law did not pass constitutional muster and three justices voting to reverse that ruling. The remaining justice, Bob Edmunds, did not participate in arguments or deliberations. His seat is directly affected by the new law this year, so he recused himself.

Friday’s ruling means that a primary will be held on June 7 for the Supreme Court seat between Edmunds, Sabra Faires, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the law, and two other attorneys, Daniel Robertson and Mike Morgan. The two top vote-getters in the June 7 primary will then face off in the Nov. 8 general election.

If the judicial retention law had been allowed to go forth, incumbent Supreme Court justices who have won their seats in a previous election, and whose terms are ending, could file with the State Board of Elections to seek another term. Such a filing would have triggered a retention process, and only the incumbent justice’s name would have been on the ballot for an up-or-down vote.

Edmunds had filed such a notice with the State Board of Elections. However, with the Supreme Court’s decision, the retention vote won’t be held this year.

A panel of three Superior Court judges declared the law unconstitutional in February, setting up the appeal producing Friday’s Supreme Court decision.

The tie vote leaves the Superior Court’s ruling “undisturbed and stands without precedential value,” the ruling says.

Barry Smith (@Barry_Smith) is an associate editor at Carolina Journal.