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Veto Overridden; Judicial Races Now Partisan

Photo: North Carolina Supreme Court
Giant Sloth

The N.C. General Assembly overrode Gov. Cooper's first veto.

So, in coming elections, voters will again see party affiliations next to the names of judges.

Judicial races became nonpartisan in the 1990s and 2000s, and the legislature made appellate court races partisan again in December.

Injecting partisanship into judicial races is something many Republicans in the N.C. General Assembly have supported. Justin Burr, a Republican from Albemarle, has argued that voter participation is lower when party affiliation isn’t included on the ticket.

In the 2016 election, Burr has a point. About 4.7 million people cast a vote in the Presidential and Senate races. Fewer, about 4.4 million on average, cast ballots in the five Court of Appeals races, which include party affiliation. In the Supreme Court race, however, fewer than 4 million voters made a choice. That’s 10 percent fewer than in the Court of Appeals races.

Total votes by type of race in 2016.
Credit N.C. Board of Elections
Total votes by type of race in 2016.

Although it wasn’t listed on the ballot, Judge Mike Morgan, now Justice Morgan, is a Democrat and his new Supreme Court seat shifted the court’s balance of power toward the Democrats. All five Court of Appeals races, however, were won by Republicans.

Therefore, in statewide judicial races, the Democrats won the only race in which party affiliation was not on the ballot.

Republicans in the state legislature put forward a measure to label all judicial races with partisan labels. Gov. Cooper vetoed the bill – his first veto of what could be many – but the Republican-controlled General Assembly was able to override the veto. 

In a released statement, Cooper’s press secretary Ford Porter said, “Injecting partisan politics into our courts is wrong and harmful to our state. Once again, as with HB2, legislative Republicans have created a solution in search of a problem to advance a divisive political agenda that won’t create good jobs, improve our schools, or put more money in the pockets of middle class families. Governor Cooper will continue to fight for better priorities.” 

Senate leader Phil Berger didn't see things quite the same way. “For years, Gov. Cooper and his allies have stoked fears of voter disenfranchisement – yet when he had the opportunity to actually increase voter involvement, he rejected a measure that the data suggests would do just that,” he said through a released statement. “I’m pleased the General Assembly corrected the governor’s misstep and this bill is now law.”

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