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Federal judge reinstates judicial primaries for Supreme Court, Court of Appeals

Judicial redistricting won’t affect judicial candidates running for a seat on the state Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals, so a federal judge reinstated this year’s primary elections in those races.

U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles released her opinion and order today granting a partial preliminary injunction of Senate Bill 656, or the Electoral Freedom Act.

The North Carolina Democratic party sued lawmakers and the state for eliminating judicial primaries this year alleging the measure infringed upon their First and 14th Amendment rights to Freedom of Association, or the rights of groups to take collective action to pursue the interests of its members.

Attorneys representing the legislature and the state argued, among other things, that the decision was made because judicial primaries could be rendered moot if judicial redistricting or merit selection passes both chambers.

“The defendants have offered a legitimate governmental interest in this change as to elections of superior and district court judges, as the legislature plans to redistrict these seats this year and primaries using current district lines may be unnecessary and will cause confusion if and when the redistricting is complete,” Eagles wrote. “The defendants have made no showing of any governmental interest supporting the abolishment of a mechanism to narrow the field in partisan appellate judicial races, as those judges are elected statewide and are not subject to redistricting.”

The candidate filing period for those judicial primary election races will likely start Feb. 12, as they were scheduled before SB656 was passed. The case will still move forward in litigation for a final determination on the constitutionality of the measure.

The Democratic party applauded Eagles’ decision.

“Restoring people’s right to vote in primaries for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals is an important victory, but we believe that same right should have been extended to our lower courts as well,” said Party Chair Wayne Goodwin. “Make no mistake — this is a major voting rights victory, yet another setback for Republicans’ efforts to rig our judiciary, and is the third time this month alone the courts have shot down Republicans’ attempts to rig our elections. NC Democrats will continue to fight to protect North Carolina voters most fundamental right — the right to vote.”

You can read Eagles’ full opinion and order below:

PI Order by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

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