Gavel Grab

Primary Ahead in North Carolina Supreme Court Race?

A June 7 primary in the North Carolina Supreme Court election now appears likely, the Associated Press reported, because three candidates are seeking a seat on the court. However, a new law changing the way Supreme Court justices are selected still is under litigation in the courts.

A Superior Court panel recently voided the new law giving elected Supreme Court justices an option to seek a new term in a retention, rather than contested, election (see Gavel Grab). The state elections board has asked for review of that ruling, and an expedited hearing was set for April 13 before the state Supreme Court. Meanwhile Justice Robert Edmunds (who has recused), Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan and attorney Sabra Faires are seeking the seat. Before the Superior Court issued its ruling, Edmunds intended to stand for retention (up-or-down) election.

A blog post in The Greensboro News & Record said it seems like the Supreme Court faces a conflict of interest in handling the case, but there may be no way to get around that.

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N.C. Judge Recuses in Case That Involves His Reelection Bid

Justice Robert Edmunds of the North Carolina Supreme Court has recused himself from participating in hearing a case involving his own reelection, according to Election Law Blog.

A Superior Court panel recently voided a new law giving elected N.C. Supreme Court justices an option to seek a new term in a retention, rather than contested, election (see Gavel Grab). The state’s elections board has asked for review of that ruling by the Supreme Court, and an expedited hearing was set for April 13.

Edmunds had planned to run for retention under the new law and more recently indicated his intention to run in a contested election. The challenge to the state law was brought by plaintiffs including an attorney who has intended to oppose Edmunds in event of a contested election. Read more

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Will N.C. High Court Face an Awkward Decision?

North_Carolina_Supreme_Court_sealIf North Carolina’s legislature does not act to repeal a judicial selection law, the state Supreme Court could be squeezed into “an unprecedented and awkward position of deciding between their political self interest and the rule of law,” Melissa Price Kromm of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections writes in an op-ed.

Kromm’s essay for The News & Observer is titled “Judicial reform farce may put NC Supreme Court in a pickle,” and it discusses a new law that introduced a retention election option for incumbent state Supreme Court justices seeking a new term. A Superior Court panel recently struck down that law (see Gavel Grab).

Kromm says the Supreme Court could be in an awkward position if the Superior Court ruling is appealed. One of the justices, Robert Edmunds, had planned to run in a retention election this year and his campaign website backs the election change, she writes. She concludes: Read more

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Ruling on North Carolina Retention Election Option is Challenged

North Carolina’s Board of Elections has asked the state Supreme Court to throw out a lower court ruling that involved how justices are elected.

A Superior Court panel recently voided a new law giving elected Supreme Court justices an option to seek a new term in a retention, rather than contested, election (see Gavel Grab). Now the elections board has asked for review of that ruling, and an expedited hearing was set for April 13, according to a News & Observer blog.

Carolina Public Press, which describes itself as an independent, investigative reporting outlet, quoted some observers as suggesting conflict of interest questions are raised by the newest case.

Among justices on the high court is Robert Edmunds Jr., who had intended to run in a retention (up-or-down) election under the new law.

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Candidates May File for N.C. Supreme Court Race

A special filing period for candidates interested in running this year for a seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court will be held March 16 to March 25.

The state Board of Elections set the new filing period in the wake of a recent court ruling that threw out a new law giving elected Supreme Court justices an option to seek a new term in a retention, rather than contested, election (see Gavel Grab).

Justice Robert Edmunds, who had planned to run for retention (yes-or-no) election to keep his seat, plans to run in a contested race, according to the News & Observer. Sabra Faires, an attorney who challenged the retention option law, plans to submit papers to be a candidate. If there are more than two candidates seeking the seat, a primary would be held June 7.

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What’s Next for Judicial Selection Reform in North Carolina?

Opinion pieces in the Richmond County Daily Journal and the Greensboro News & Record agree that partisan politics was driving a new law that introduced a retention election option for elected state Supreme Court justices seeking a new term. A Superior Court panel recently struck down that law (see Gavel Grab).

Journalist  Clark belongs to the state’s Commission on the Administration of Law & Justice, argues that true reform might may best be brought about with an appointive system: “Research has found that judges tend to conform their decisions to public opinion when they have more closely contested elections. In other words, elections pressure judges to act like politicians. That’s not going to produce fair and impartial justice.”

Read more

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Hearing Set on Challenge to New Judicial Selection Law

A North Carolina Superior Court panel has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday on a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a change to judicial selection law in the state.

The new law, signed by Gov. Pat McCrory last year, gives elected state Supreme Court justices the option to stand for re-election to a new term in a retention (up-or-down) contest instead of a contested race (see Gavel Grab for background). Read more

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Columnist: ‘The Spigots Will Spew Cash’ in 2016 NC Judicial Races

NORTH-CAROLINA-FLAG-300x224Columnist Scott Sexton of the Winston-Salem Journal blasts the cash-heavy environment in North Carolina’s judicial elections since the death of public financing, and predicts that 2016’s court races will be awash in money as well.  He cites Justice at Stake’s Bankrolling the Bench as a source of information on this disturbing trend.

In a column headlined “Money flows, rubbish to follow,” Sexton writes that under the state’s former system of public financing for judicial campaigns, “favors, corruption and shenanigans that tarnish legislators and governors wouldn’t — in theory — stick to judges who, the last I checked, were supposed to be fair and impartial.” Adding that “all that changed” when the legislature did away with the financing program, he writes that soon, “the cash hose got switched to full-on blast mode. Serious jurists who once could concentrate on matters of law now have to spend hours begging for $5,000 checks.”

In 2016, eight candidates will be on North Carolina’s ballot running for four Court of Appeals seats and one state Supreme Court seat.  The Supreme Court election is a retention election for one justice, the first under a new state law providing for retention elections.  “The spigots will spew cash, and garbage surely will follow on the airwaves,” predicts Sexton regarding the upcoming races and accompanying advertising.

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For Inmates Spared Death Penalty, Further Review Ordered

In 2012, a North Carolina Superior Court judge commuted the death penalty for four convicted murderers who argued successfully that racial bias had affected their trials. They were the only defendants to get their death sentences commuted under the N.C. Racial Justice Act, enacted in 2009 and repealed four years later, The Fayetteville Observer reported.

Now the state Supreme Court has vacated the lower court’s orders and demanded reconsideration. In one case, the high court said the state was not allowed enough time to prepare for an unusual, complex, proceeding, according to The New York Times, and in another, it said three cases should not have been melded into a single evidentiary hearing.

“Before Friday’s decisions,” The Times said, “the cases had been considered tests of whether court rulings made under the state’s Racial Justice Act would endure after the measure’s repeal in 2013. The act, which took effect in 2009, allowed death row inmates to seek a change in their sentences to life without parole if they could show that race was ‘a significant factor’ in proceedings.”

Additional coverage included The News & Observer and Reuters.

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Editorial Urges Statewide Debate on Selecting N.C. Justices

North-CarolinaThe North Carolina legislature had a partisan motivation when it changed judicial selection law affecting how state Supreme Court justices are chosen, a Greensboro News & Record editorial says.

The new law’s constitutionality was challenged in a lawsuit this week (see Gavel Grab). The law gives elected state Supreme Court justices the option to stand for re-election to a new term in a retention (up-or-down) contest instead of a contested race.

The editorial asserts that the legislature “invited a legal challenge by making this change in such a clumsy way. It should undertake comprehensive judicial reform rather than move pieces around in an inconsistent fashion for partisan reasons. In this case, a proposed constitutional amendment, put to a vote of the people, would have allowed a needed statewide discussion on the best way to choose Supreme Court judges.” Read more

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