A Senate leader, on Tuesday, filed legislation that would put a constitutional change in front of voters during the 2018 primary to shorten the terms of the state’s elected judges from four and eight years to two years.
The bill, SB 698, would put the constitutional amendment before voters to decide whether to hold elections for District Court judges every two years, instead of every four years, and have elections every two years for the state Superior Court, Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, instead of every eight years.
The change is intended to make the judiciary more beholden to the people by having them appeal to the voters for their seats every two years, as opposed to every four or eight years.
“In the coming months, the Senate will carefully consider a number of options for reforming the way judges are selected in North Carolina including the House’s judicial redistricting bill, moving to some form of merit selection of judges, and retention elections for judges,” Senate Rules Chairman Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick) said. “After Gov. (Roy) Cooper’s recent flip-flop from supporting merit selection to supporting judicial elections, I felt it was important that the discussion also include an option that allows our citizens to vote more frequently on judges.”
Rabon is referring to Cooper’s vote in favor of legislation to move to legislative appointments of judges while serving in the General Assembly.
The change would become active in the 2018 election year.
The statement from Rabon is also the first public comment from Senate leadership addressing HB 717, the House’s judicial redistricting bill that has been awaiting action in the Senate Rules Committee since its passage in the House earlier this month.
The bill was filed by Rabon and would go before voters during the 2018 election primaries.
According to a release from the Senate, House Rules Chairman David Lewis (R-Harnett) plans to introduce identical companion legislation through the House Rules Committee process.
“The General Assembly is very serious about judicial reform,” Lewis said. “I hear concerns from my constituents all the time about judges legislating from the bench. Under this amendment, if a voter feels like a judge is acting like a legislator, they can vote to change their judge every two years just like they can vote to change their legislator every two years.”
Legislators say that the change will increase the state’s judiciary’s accountability to the citizens of North Carolina.
The legislation, as currently written, would allow elections for the District Court, Superior Court, Court of Appeals and Supreme Court in the 2018 general election instead of putting off the change to an election further out.
The bill would make it so the terms of all judges in the state in the affected courts who were elected before July 1, 2018 would expire on Dec 31, 2018.
The legislation would also keep the governor’s ability to appoint vacancies to the Superior Court, Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court intact, without requiring legislative confirmation, for the remainder of the current term of the office.
The legislature is next scheduled to meet as a body in Raleigh Jan. 10, where the legislation will presumably be taken up.