Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

NC Democrats file federal lawsuit to overturn GOP’s elimination of judicial primaries

Note: This story has been updated to reflect a response from the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

The North Carolina Democratic Party is fighting Republican lawmakers over the cancellation of next year’s judicial primary elections.

The party filed an injunction in federal court yesterday against Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore, the state of North Carolina, the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement and its Executive Director Kim Strach to overturn Senate Bill 656, the Electoral Freedom Act, which eliminates judicial primaries for 2018.

“This is an action to protect the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of Plaintiffs, to ensure that Plaintiffs are not deprived of their most fundamental and constitutionally protected right of political association, and to protect Plaintiffs from infringement of their right of association by the State,” the court document states.

The document was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, the same court that is overseeing the legislative redistricting process to correct unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

“Speaker Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Berger’s cynical move to eliminate judicial primaries deprives the people of North Carolina of their most fundamental right — the right to vote,” said Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin. “Legislative Republicans are rigging the system, not creating a better system of selecting judges. North Carolinians have a right to make an informed decision about who they want as their judicial nominee. This move unjustly eliminates that right and should be immediately struck down.”

The Party alleges in a news release that in addition to canceling an election, SB656 would “cause unnecessary and harmful confusion at the ballot box.”

In North Carolina, there have been at least three instances in the past 16 years in which judicial primaries were not used but none were mandated by the General Assembly. In each instance, the winner was elected with under 24 percent of the vote.

Experts have expressed concern over the elimination of judicial primaries and Democrats fought the move, which was another surprise measure that was passed without public input.

Berger and Moore have not yet responded to a request for comment about the injunction.

Pat Gannon, a spokesman for the Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, said they “will ensure the court is aware of any election administration or logistical issues that may arise as this case proceeds.”

Goodwin said GOP lawmakers have yet to offer “any compelling reason for eliminating judicial primaries other than their own desire to bend out court system to their will.”

“The result will be unnecessary chaos and confusion at the ballot box,” he added. “The courts should strike down this unconstitutional political move and ensure that North Carolina voters get to cast a vote for the judge of their choice in the primary.”

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