The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved a bill to mandate a runoff for state Supreme Court elections where no candidate earns a clear majority vote. It also OK’d a bill to ensure people unable to leave their homes to vote can receive an emergency absentee ballot. The Supreme Court bill is HB 2008. It says that if no candidate in a Supreme Court election receives more than 40 percent of the vote in the May election, the two highest vote-getters will face off in a runoff in November. If passed by both chambers, it would take effect in time for the 2020 election. It would also apply to special elections occurring after that date.
West Virginia: Temporary justices dismiss petitions challenging Gov. Justice’s appointments to West Virginia Supreme Court | WV News
Five circuit court judges temporarily appointed to the state’s Supreme Court of Appeals dismissed two petitions Monday morning that challenged whether Gov. Jim Justice was allowed to appoint two prominent Republicans to fill vacancies on the court. The Governor appointed former House Speaker Tim Armstead and current U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins to temporarily fill two vacancies on the court. The two men are also running in the November general election to finish out the rest of those two terms. “What you have to do here today couldn’t be more important, even with the short deadline. Our state is in a constitutional crisis,” said Teresa Toriseva, counsel for one of the petitioners.
A Corpus Christi federal judge on Wednesday rejected a challenge seeking to end statewide elections for Texas’ highest criminal and civil courts. The lawsuit, filed by Latino voters and an organization founded by the late civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, argued that statewide elections for members of the Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals improperly dilute Latino voting strength and deny Latinos the right to elect a candidate of their choice. Ordering Texas to adopt single-member districts, the lawsuit argued, would correct the Voting Rights Act violation by creating at least two Latino-majority voting districts — based in the Rio Grande Valley and West Texas — for the nine-member courts.
Attacks on judicial independence are becoming more frequent and more partisan. The current effort to impeach the entire West Virginia Supreme Court, while not unprecedented, is taking place against a backdrop of political attacks against judges elsewhere. “There’s a kind of a war going on between the legislatures and the courts,” says Chris Bonneau, a political scientist at the University of Pittsburgh. “Absolutely, we’re seeing a new environment.” The West Virginia House last month voted to impeach all the sitting justices on the state Supreme Court. The state Senate is set to begin its impeachment trial Tuesday. There were legitimate reasons for legislators to go after justices, or at least some of them.
North Carolina: Senate overrides Cooper vetoes of judicial district, election bills | Winston-Salem Chronicle
Republican legislators are moving to try to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes, this time on legislation redrawing judicial districts in some of North Carolina’s counties and election security. The North Carolina Senate on Tuesday, June 19, voted to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes of two bills – Senate Bill 486, which tightens election security measures to protect against the threat of outside influence, and Senate Bill 757, which makes changes to judicial districts in four counties. House Republicans would vote either Wednesday or today. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes of two bills adds more uncertainty to already unusual state elections this fall for judges and in races where new political parties want to field candidates. Cooper announced late Friday – less than three hours before a 10-day state constitutional deadline – his decision to block a pair of measures.
North Carolina: Federal appeals court backs skipping judicial primaries in North Carolina | Greensboro Bews & Record
Federal appellate judges affirmed on Monday their earlier decision blocking a lower court’s order that would have reinstated primary elections this year for statewide judicial offices. A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a Jan. 31 order by U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles that effectively required 2018 primaries for statewide judgeships that had been waived by a new state law. The Republican-led General Assembly passed the law in 2017 to cancel judicial primaries during the 2018 election cycle while it considers plans to overhaul the state judiciary, including appellate, superior and district courts.
Primaries for North Carolina state appellate court seats won’t happen this year if a federal appeals court decision stands. A panel of judges Friday reversed a lower court decision that would have required the primaries, giving a victory to Republican state lawmakers. The GOP-controlled General Assembly voted last October to cancel the 2018 primaries for both trial court and appellate court seats. GOP lawmakers argued it made sense to hold only one general election for each seat this year because the House and Senate were debating changes to election districts for the trial court seats. They said they didn’t want to create confusion if new districts were approved after candidate filing was completed under previous boundaries.
There are only two Latinos out of 18 judges on Texas’ highest courts, and a federal trial that started Monday will examine voters’ claims that the state’s electoral system for these courts dilutes the Latino vote. La Union Del Pueblo Entero, or LUPE, a nonprofit founded by the late migrant-rights activist Cesar Chavez, claims the election system for the Texas Supreme Court and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is rigged against Latinos. Joined by seven Latino Texans, LUPE sued Texas in July 2016, alleging the state’s at-large system for electing judges for these courts dilutes the Latino vote in violation of the Voting Rights Act. LUPE is represented by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C. nonprofit, and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. LUPE overcame Texas’ arguments that it lacks standing by citing some startling statistics about the history of Hispanic judges on the courts.
The list of voting rights challenges Texas is fighting in court lengthens this week with the beginning of a federal trial in a case challenging the way the state elects judges to its highest courts. As part of a lawsuit filed on behalf of seven Latino voters and a civil rights organization, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi will consider whether the statewide method of electing judges on the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals dilutes the voting power of Texas Latinos and keeps them from electing their preferred candidates.
North Carolina: Judge reinstates primaries for Supreme Court and appeals court races| News & Observer
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…
A North Carolina law canceling this year’s judicial primaries came Wednesday before a federal judge who will decide whether the law should be implemented after hearing arguments about the right of political parties to back candidates and the General Assembly’s authority to set election parameters. The state Democratic Party and several county Democratic parties sued last month over an October law that eliminated partisan primaries for trial and appellate court judgeships for this year only. They said it violated their constitutional right to associate as a party and choose in an election people they believe best represents their party for the general elections.
North Carolina: Republicans canceled an election. Now Democrats are going to court | News & Observer
North Carolina Democrats have asked the federal courts to block a law that does away with primaries next year in partisan judicial races. The state Democratic Party and several county parties, including those in Wake, Durham and Orange counties, sued on Tuesday claiming that the law adopted in October by the Republican-led General Assembly is unconstitutional because it prohibits the political party from the “special protection” afforded to it in the First and Fourteenth amendments to select candidates who best represent the party’s philosophies and policies. The Democrats involved with the lawsuit have asked the court to take action before February, when candidate filing for the 2018 elections opens in North Carolina.
Republicans with a firm grip on the North Carolina legislature — and, until January, the governor’s seat — enacted a conservative agenda in recent years, only to have a steady stream of laws affecting voting and legislative power rejected by the courts. Now lawmakers have seized on a solution: change the makeup of the courts. Judges in state courts as of this year must identify their party affiliation on ballots, making North Carolina the first state in nearly a century to adopt partisan court elections. The General Assembly in Raleigh reduced the size of the state Court of Appeals, depriving Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, of naming replacements for retiring Republicans. And this month, lawmakers drew new boundaries for judicial districts statewide, which critics say are meant to increase the number of Republican judges on district and superior courts and would force many African-Americans on the bench into runoffs against other incumbents.
Primary elections for trial court and appeals court seats in 2018 have been scrapped after Republicans on Tuesday overrode Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that foretells potentially more judicial changes ahead. The House voted to make state law a measure — approved two weeks ago then formally objected to by Cooper — that also would delay candidate filing for those judicial races from February to June. The Senate voted Monday night for the override. At least 60 percent of the legislators present in each chamber had to agree to overcome Cooper’s veto. The override marks the latest action by the GOP-controlled General Assembly to retool the judicial branch. Earlier this year, lawmakers passed bills making District Court and Superior Court races officially partisan elections again and reducing through attrition the number of Court of Appeals judges from 15 to 12. Cooper vetoed both of those bills, but they were also overturned.
The state Senate voted Monday night to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a measure that would cancel all judicial primary elections in 2018. The House is expected to follow suit Tuesday, although that vote may be delayed. Senate Bill 656 would also make it easier for third-party and unaffiliated candidates to get on the ballot for statewide or municipal races, but not in legislative races. It would also lower the percentage of primary votes required to avoid a runoff. Republican House and Senate leaders say they’re canceling the judicial primaries because they intend to redraw the state’s Superior Court and District Court districts by next spring, so the primary would likely be delayed.
An elections bill passed in one of several legislative actions in last week’s brief session, has drawn the 13th veto from Gov. Roy Cooper, who objected to a provision eliminating next year’s judicial primaries. “This legislation abolishes a scheduled election and takes away the right of the people to vote for the judges of their choice,” Cooper said in a statement released with Monday’s veto. “It is the first step toward a constitutional amendment that will rig the system so that the legislature picks everybody’s judges in every district instead of letting the people vote for the judges they want. If the legislature doesn’t like the fact that judges are ruling many of their laws unconstitutional, they should change their ways instead of their judges.”
State House and Senate leaders have agreed on a provision that cancels the 2018 primary elections for all judicial races and district attorneys. The provision was tacked onto the conference report for Senate Bill 656, titled the “Electoral Freedom Act.” Most of the bill deals with easing ballot access requirements for third parties as well as for unaffiliated candidates. It also lowers the threshold for a primary candidate to win his or her party’s nomination from 40 percent of the primary vote to 30 percent. “There are many folks in here who would seek to do away with the second [runoff] primary altogether,” sponsor Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, told the House Rules Committee Wednesday evening. “This would be a step at least in the direction of those who feel that way.”
If the separation-of-powers undertones in the judicial redistricting process weren’t already obvious, state Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly, left no doubt Tuesday. The General Assembly is exercising its authority to redraw district and Superior Court maps “not for the benefit of lawyers, but for the benefit of the people of this state,” Burr said after presiding over a meeting of the House Select Committee on Redistricting he chairs. Several lawyers and judges agreed during the 2 ½ hour meeting it’s a good idea to update and reconfigure the judicial districts. The most recent time that was done Dwight Eisenhower was president, “The $64,000 Question” was the top-rated TV show, and Mitch Miller and The Drifters were among the biggest pop music acts.
Judges called on state legislators Tuesday to pump the brakes on a plan to redraw judicial and prosecutorial districts around the state, but the man behind the plan said he’s aiming for an October vote. They also raised the possibility that some of the currently proposed districts, drawn in part to favor Republican election chances, won’t have enough lawyers living in them to produce strong candidate pools. “They are Republican-leaning without many lawyers living in them,” Judge Athena Brooks, who described herself as a Republican and spoke for the North Carolina Association of District Court Judges, said of the proposed new map.
With approval of new North Carolina legislative districts behind them, House Republicans returned Tuesday to Raleigh to advance their efforts to redraw election districts for trial court judges and local prosecutors. Unlike a federal court’s mandate to approve House and Senate districts before a Sept. 1 deadline, Republicans in the chamber aren’t being forced to perform redistricting on the boundaries for Superior Court and District Court judgeships and for district attorneys. In fact, a judicial expert from the UNC School of Government told representatives at the first meeting of the House judicial redistricting committee that wholesale changes to judicial maps haven’t been completed since the advent of the state’s modern court system in 1955.
The bill to redraw judicial districts in North Carolina will not advance this session, the legislation’s sponsor said Tuesday. Rep. Justin Burr, a Republican from Albemarle, told The News & Observer that House Bill 717 will be taken up when the General Assembly returns in a few months. That is when a special redistricting session could occur. Burr introduced the bill in a House committee on Monday, where it was approved and calendared for consideration by the full House on Tuesday. Democrats and some court officials said the bill was too significant to be rushed through at the end of session. On Tuesday, Burr said he thought he would have more time to advance the proposal. He said the governor vetoed the budget earlier than he anticipated, narrowing the time frame that the bill could be moved through both chambers. Legislative leaders say they anticipate ending the session as early as this week.
A plan to redraw North Carolina’s court districts has emerged in the final days of the General Assembly’s session, and is on a fast track to clear the state House. Three election maps – for superior and district court judges and district attorneys – would be changed through a bill whose proponents say it would realign districts to better reflect population growth, geography and workloads. In some cases the maps create new, smaller districts and in other cases they add judges to existing districts.
Texas: Judge allows suit challenging how Texas elects judges to its highest courts | San Antonio Express-News
A federal judge has denied the state of Texas’ attempt to quash a lawsuit that challenges the way the state elects judges to the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals. Seven Hispanic voters (six from Nueces County and one from El Paso) and a civic organization, La Unión Del Pueblo Entero Inc., allege in the suit that Latino candidates almost always lose statewide elections for judges to the two highest courts in Texas. In an opinion issued Monday, U.S. District Judge Nelva Ramos ruled that all the plaintiffs have standing to bring the suit under the Voting Rights Act.
Voters casting ballots for judges next year will know the political parties of the candidates. Republicans who control the General Assembly say that gives voters helpful information. Democrats say it politicizes the courts. House Bill 100 makes Superior Court and District Court elections partisan, completing a change that the legislature began with appellate courts including the state Supreme Court. On Thursday, the state Senate with little discussion overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of HB 100 by a vote of 32-15, with two Republicans voting against the override: Sen. John Alexander of Raleigh and Sen. Danny Earl Britt of Robeson County. The House had voted 77-44 the day before to override the veto. The measure will restore party primaries for trial-court races. Political affiliations will be included on the general-election ballot.
Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday vetoed his first bill, one that would restore partisan judicial elections. The bill’s author said the General Assembly would vote to override the new governor’s first veto. The legislation, House Bill 100, would make District Court and Superior Court judicial candidates go through a party primary. Under the bill, general election ballots would include the candidates’ party affiliations. Candidates who aren’t registered with a political party would need to go through a petition process to get their names on the ballot. Superior Court elections were switched from partisan to nonpartisan in 1996, and state leaders made the same change for District Court in 2001.
North Carolina: State Supreme Court political and ideological balance could tilt in 2016 election | News & Observer
As key pieces of the legislative agenda get scrutiny in the courts, partisan organizations and politicians are focusing on the race for the one seat up for grabs on the North Carolina Supreme Court. The state’s highest court has a one-vote conservative majority, and that has been reflected in decisions to uphold redistricting maps found unconstitutional in the federal courts and to allow state funds to be used for private school vouchers. Justice Bob Edmunds, who has been on the state’s highest court for 16 years, is a Republican from Greensboro facing a challenge from Wake County Superior Court Judge Mike Morgan, a Democrat from Raleigh. Early voting begins in North Carolina on Oct. 20 and ends Nov. 5. Election day is Nov. 8. The candidates have been going from the coast to the mountains, speaking to individuals and groups. It was not until May that it became clear Edmunds would face any challengers in his campaign to keep his seat.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed a lawsuit today on behalf of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP and four individual black voters alleging that the method of electing Alabama’s most powerful judges violates the Voting Rights Act. The suit claims Alabama’s statewide method of electing members of the Alabama Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals and Court of Civil Appeals deprives the African-American community of the ability to elect any judges of their choice. The suit alleges, since only one fourth of the state’s population is black, a statewide election for these judges prevents the black voters from having any judicial representation. Currently, all 19 of Alabama’s appellate judges are white.
There will be one race on every ballot in North Carolina’s previously unscheduled June 7 primary because the state Supreme Court couldn’t agree whether a law that led a colleague to seek re-election through a new method complied with the state constitution. Justices deadlocked 3-3 this month on a lower court ruling that struck down the law giving Associate Justice Robert Edmunds of Greensboro the option to run alone for a new term in November and try to keep his job based on an up-or-down vote of support. That kept February’s decision of three trial judges intact, thus returning the election to a traditional head-to-head race. Edmunds and three challengers — Sabra Jean Faires of Cary, Michael Morgan of Raleigh and Daniel Robertson of Advance — are candidates on the primary ballot that also will include delayed congressional primaries in most parts of the state. The top two vote-getters advance to the general election.
Kansas: Outraged by Kansas Justices’ Rulings, Republicans Seek to Reshape Court | The New York Times
Washington is locked in partisan warfare over control of the Supreme Court. But it is hardly the only place. Look at the states, where political attacks on judicial decisions are common and well-financed attack ads are starting to jar the once-sleepy elections for State Supreme Court seats. Nowhere is the battle more fiery than here in Kansas. Gov. Sam Brownback and other conservative Republicans have expressed outrage over State Supreme Court decisions that overturned death penalty verdicts, blocked anti-abortion laws and hampered Mr. Brownback’s efforts to slash taxes and spending, and they are seeking to reshape a body they call unaccountable to the right-tilting public. At one point, the L egislature threatened to suspend all funding for the courts. The Supreme Court, in turn, ruled in February that the state’s public schools must shut down altogether if poorer districts do not get more money by June 30.
A state commission responsible for redrawing judicial districts has released a slate of proposals aimed at making the court system more able to handle its growing caseload. But in the end, the commission’s work may only underscore the need for more judges, not judicial redistricting. The legislature established the commission last year to study if realigning the boundaries of the state’s 22 judicial districts might ease the pressures on courts because of the growing number of cases. “We’ve got to answer the question that the legislature gave us. The answer may be to redraw these lines … or the answer may be that redrawing the lines won’t help,” said District Court Judge Gregory Todd of Billings, who chairs the commission. “For the commission to do its job, it needs to look at some of these specific proposals and say why they won’t help.”