North Carolina election officials must reinstate primary elections for judicial candidates seeking statewide office this year, including the one open seat on the state Supreme Court. U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles issued an order on Wednesday that, in part, grants a request by Democratic Party officials who sued state lawmakers for canceling primary elections for all judicial races in 2018 – from the district courts to the state’s highest court. At a hearing last week, attorneys for the Democrats argued that the Republican-led General Assembly violated the party’s free speech and equal protection rights by doing away with the election that would have allowed the winnowing of candidates for the general election.
Without primaries, ballots in judicial races could have many names on them. A candidate with just 30 percent of the vote could become a judge, according to changes in the law adopted in October. That, Democrats contended in a lawsuit filed late last year, makes it difficult for the party to put forward its best candidate.
“A cluttered ballot threatens the freedom of political parties to join together to further common beliefs,” Eagles said in an ordergranting the Democrats’ request for emergency relief from the law in statewide races. “Without a primary or some other mechanism to narrow the field of candidates on the general election partisan ballot, the ability of political parties like the plaintiffs to provide support for their chosen candidate and to leverage that support in other races is restricted and the possibility of confusion and deception arises.”