Divided Supreme Court means no retention elections in NC for now

Posted May 6, 2016 10:27 a.m. EDT
Updated May 6, 2016 11:10 a.m. EDT

— The June 7 primary for a state Supreme Court seat will go on as planned after a divided court said Friday that a recent ruling disallowing a simple up-or-down vote on a sitting justice would stand.

The General Assembly last year passed legislation allowing Supreme Court justices to run in retention elections with no opposition. The new law would have let Justice Bob Edmunds to appear on this year's ballot by himself, with voters being asked whether to keep him in his seat or remove him.

Sabra Faires, a long-time legislative lawyer who now is in private practice, challenged the law, saying it unconstitutionally blocked her from running for an office for which she was otherwise qualified.

A special panel of three Superior Court judges agreed with Faires in February, ruling that North Carolina would need a constitutional amendment to allow retention elections.

The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, where Edmunds had to recuse himself from participating in the decision.

The remaining six justices heard the case last month and, in a brief opinion filed Friday, said they split 3-3 on the case, meaning the ruling by the panel of Superior Court judges stands.

The panel's ruling creates no precedent, however, meaning the issue of retention elections in North Carolina could come up again in the future. Other states have used such elections to try to get politics and campaign fundraising out of judicial elections.

Edmunds, Faires, Superior Court Judge Mike Morgan from Wake County and Daniel Robertson, a lawyer from Advance, are set to run in the primary, with the top two finishers to face off again in the November general election.