An attorney challenging a new law changing the way North Carolina Supreme Court justices are selected argued on Wednesday in front of those same justices. There was one exception; a justice who is seeking a new term in November stepped aside.
The new law would permit elected incumbent justices to seek a new term through a retention (up-or-down) election rather than a contested race. It was struck down by a lower court, and that decision quickly was appealed to the state’s highest tribunal.
The law’s challengers include Sabra Faires, an attorney running for the court in November, and two unlikely allies, the left-leaning ACLU of North Carolina and right-leaning Civitas Institute Center for Law and Freedom, according to The News & Observer. Faires’ lawyer argued in court, and the other challengers in their briefs, that the shift requires a statewide vote on rewriting the state Constitution. This Constitution mandates that justices “shall be elected,” according to The Associated Press.
But the state’s solicitor general, John Maddrey, reasoned that a retention election complies with the existing North Carolina Constitution. Justice Robert Edmunds, the sole judge on the bench currently running for re-election in November, recused himself. Also running in November are Superior Court Judge Mike Morgan and Daniel G. Robertson, a counsel and risk analysis officer for Bank of the Carolinas.
Justice at Stake said last year there were political motivations to changing the law: “If the old law were standing and voters toppled the Republican judge in a contested election [in 2016], the conservatives would lose their majority. The process is being changed not to insulate the judiciary from political pressure, but instead to serve political ends.” Edmunds is a Republican.