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Proposed Constitutional Amendment on Selection of Judicial Vacancies

Senate Bill 814 gives voters the opportunity to change the North Carolina Constitution so that the Legislature rather than the Governor has the primary power to appoint judges to fill vacant seats

There are several proposed amendments to the North Carolina Constitution that will appear on the November 2018 ballot.

The Senate Bill 814 ballot will read as follows:

[  ] FOR [  ] AGAINST

Constitutional amendment to implement a nonpartisan merit-based system that relies on professional qualifications instead of political influence when nominating Justices and judges to be selected to fill vacancies that occur between judicial elections.

Five former North Carolina governors are opposing this amendment. Former Governor Jim Martin (R) has called the description of this amendment misleading, which it is.

It is highly questionable whether this amendment actually creates a merit-based system of filling vacancies when judges leave the bench prior to the next election cycle.

This amendment would lead to the creation of a “Nonpartisan Judicial Merit Commission.” The Commission would evaluate the qualifications of the judicial nominees and would send the evaluations to the General Assembly.

The General Assembly would then recommend at least two nominees to the Governor.

The Governor would then appoint the nominee the Governor believes is best qualified. The Governor does not have the power to veto the nominees.

In theory, establishing a Nonpartisan Judicial Merit Commission could be helpful in evaluating nominees. However, the Commission apparently would only say whether or not the candidate “qualified,” apparently with no distinction between a recent law school graduate and an attorney with 25 years of experience.

It would be up to the Legislature to choose from many qualified candidates, that it would then give to the Governor, who would have to choose one of them. At the end of the day, this amendment would take the power from the Governor and transfer it to the General Assembly.

Worse, however, is the absence of any language prohibiting the General Assembly from simply tacking on other legislation to the recommendation. If this amendment is passed, the General Assembly could add legislation to the list of judicial candidates to get around the Governor’s veto power.

Five former North Carolina governors are opposing this amendment, and held a press conference to explain the bases for their opposition.

The full text of Senate Bill 814 and the North Carolina Constitution are available on the Legislature’s website.

Six Constitutional Amendments will be on the ballot in November. They are:

1. Right to Hunt, Fish, and Harvest Wildlife (Senate Bill 677)

2. Selection of Judicial Vacancies (Senate Bill 814)

3. Bipartisan State Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement (House Bill 913)

4. Rights of Victims of Crime (House Bill 551)

5. Seven Percent Cap on Income Tax Rate (Senate Bill 75)

6. Voter ID (House Bill 1092)

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