At Appeals Court, Dems And Republicans Argue Over Judicial Primaries

Mar 21, 2018

North Carolina State Legislative Office Building
Credit Wikimedia Commons/ W Edward Callis III

North Carolina's primaries are just seven weeks away, but it's still not clear if they'll include votes for local judges. A three-judge panel at the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, heard arguments Tuesday over whether those primaries can go forward this year.

Lawyers for Democrats and Republicans argued over the constitutionality of a 2017 state law that canceled judicial primaries.  Republican lawmakers enacted the law by overriding a veto by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.  Democrats sued, arguing the law violated their freedom to associate in picking judge candidates.

The full case goes to trial in June. Yesterday, lawyers argued over whether a federal judge was right in January to temporarily block part of the law. That judge ordered primaries for statewide appeals court and supreme court judges to go forward, but canceled primaries for district judges.

Last month, the appeals court panel allowed the full law to take effect until it could weigh in.  

For the Democrats, John Wallace argued that without primaries, anyone could run with whatever party affiliation they want.

“The voters are not going to have the information to know whether or not those persons are nominees of the Democratic Party or pretenders," Wallace said. "That creates a situation in which we have voter confusion."

On behalf of the Republican lawmakers, lawyer Martin Warf argued that eliminating primaries doesn't take away a party's right to nominate candidates. They can do so through caucuses, for example, and then publicize their choices.

“The parties can, and always do, have the ability under the administrative code in North Carolina to take, to give out placards that feature the faces and names of their nominees," Warf said. "Those are fine to take into the ballot booth with you. The parties have, to my knowledge, always done that."

A ruling on whether district judge primaries should go forward this year is expected soon.