Raleigh, N.C. — Trial court judges in North Carolina will once again run in partisan elections after the Senate on Thursday completed the override of Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of the measure.
Cooper issued his first veto a week ago, saying House Bill 100 introduces too much politics into the state's Superior Court and District Court systems.
Until the 1990s, North Carolina elected judges in partisan races, but lawmakers at the time, including Cooper, who was then a state senator, voted to have judges run without Republican or Democratic labels to better insulate them from political pressure.
Critics say that nonpartisan races remove the little bit of information that some voters will know about a judge – whether they're Republican or Democrat – from the ballot. They also point out that political parties have always distributed slate cards at the polls playing up judges who share their political affiliation.
"Voters tell me they want to know as much as possible about judges," said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph. "It's simply a matter of information."
Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue quoted U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, who said during his confirmation hearing this week that there are "no R judges and no D judges."
"Everyone ought to be neutral and not wear party labels," said Blue, D-Wake.
The Senate voted 32-15 for the override. The House voted 74-44 on Wednesday for the override.
"For years, Gov. Cooper and his allies have stoked fears of voter disenfranchisement. Yet, when he had the opportunity to actually increase voter involvement, he rejected a measure that the data suggests would do just that," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in a statement. "I’m pleased the General Assembly corrected the governor’s misstep and this bill is now law."
But Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said partisan judicial elections would be "harmful to our state.
"Legislative Republicans have created a solution in search of a problem to advance a divisive political agenda that won’t create good jobs, improve our schools or put more money in the pockets of middle-class families," Porter said in a statement.