Senators roll out judicial appointments proposal
A proposal to appoint judges in North Carolina, with voters deciding later on full terms, emerged at the statehouse Wednesday, but a lack of consensus left unclear whether the General Assembly can approve any judicial branch changes during a special session slated to begin next week.Posted — Updated
After Wednesday's committee vote, Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon shook his head when asked whether legislative leaders would approve any judiciary changes when they go into session Jan. 10, which was once the plan.
"We will not," said Rabon, R-Brunswick. "There's a lot of work to be done."
"I think it's going to take a few weeks," Burr said. "There's still time to get this done."
Then, a commission appointed by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court would evaluate nominees for the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, and local commissions would review potential Superior Court and District Court judges. Anyone rated "qualified" by these groups would be forwarded to the General Assembly, which would whittle the list down to at least three nominees per vacancy.
The nominees would go to the governor, who would choose an appointee from the list. That appointee would serve until the second general election after his or her appointment, when voters would be asked to confirm or reject a full 10-year term. Judges could serve only one term on that court, though they could put their names in to move to another court, going from Superior Court to the Court of Appeals, for example.
Senate committee Co-chairman Dan Bishop, R-Mecklenburg, said he believes this blended appointments method would be a first-in-the-nation system for naming judges.
"What we have right now is a super-majority that does whatever it wants, and that's not a good atmosphere to make changes in the judiciary, particularly when what they have done has been to inject more politics in the judiciary," Cooper said last month.
On Wednesday a Cooper spokesman said in an email to WRAL News, "Republican legislators want to pick the judges for political reasons" and that, "when it comes to the people or Republican legislators choosing judges, Governor Cooper will go with the people every time."
State voters would have to approve an appointments system in a statewide referendum for it to take effect because doing away with elections for Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and Superior Court judges requires a constitutional amendment. The General Assembly could change the method for naming District Court judges without such an amendment.
It takes a three-fifths vote in the legislature to call for a constitutional referendum, and Republicans have the numbers to hit that mark without Democratic support, but Rabon predicted major changes will take at least some bipartisan support.
"It's going to be a hard sell," he said. "It's going to take both parties."
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