Sometimes judges in North Carolina don’t get the respect they should. They often have large caseloads. They have to know the law in lots of different areas. And most have to run for office every eight years. It takes time to go through that process, and when judges run statewide, they have to cover a lot of ground.
Now the North Carolina General Assembly (your NC legislature) has introduced a bill to change the NC Constitution so that judges will have to run every 2 years! Judges would have to raise money and campaign all the time. If this bill passes both houses, voters will face this change to the NC Constitution on the ballot next year. Nowhere in America has this been done, and for good reason.
This is wrong. If it comes to the voters we will be asking you to VOTE NO in the coming months. We won’t be alone; judges will tell you that this is wrong. Lawyers will tell you that it is wrong. The NC legislature will give you some reasons behind this bill, but they all really mean that your NC legislators would like to have control over the judges.
There are other attacks on judges happening right now:
- Redistricting: when the NC legislature changes districts, they can make two or more judges they don’t want to stay in office have to run against each other to keep their seats. Or they can pack voters into one district to get the kind of judge they want. This bill hasn’t passed yet, and judges are speaking out.
- Partisan elections: the NC General Assembly passed a bill and now makes judges run as Democrats and Republicans even though justice ought to have nothing to do with political parties.
- Primaries: The NC General Assembly has canceled the primaries so that when you do get to vote for judges, you might have to decide between 19 candidates for judge on the final ballot.
Here is what the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, Mark Martin has to say about changing our NC Constitution to make judges run every other year.
Nowhere in America do voters elect their general jurisdiction judges for two-year terms of office. This is as it should be. Electing judges for two-year terms would force judges to campaign and raise money constantly, and would disrupt the administration of justice.
Judicial terms of office are longer than executive and legislative terms of office because judges have a different function. Judges are accountable, first and foremost, to the federal and state constitutions and to the law. They apply the law uniformly, and equal justice under law is the ultimate goal of any court system.
The people of North Carolina should have a meaningful role in the judicial selection and retention process, just as citizens of states around the country do. But two-year terms are not the answer.
We at Copeley Johnson & Groninger will keep you posted on what is happening with judges. Your access to justice depends on your having fair judges.
If you have questions to ask about justice and fair courts, we are happy to talk to you. Call us at (919) 240-4054.