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Confused about the judicial appointment constitutional amendment? Read this

A professor from the University of North Carolina School of Government has taken a stab at trying to decipher a constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot this November having to do with the appointment of judicial vacancies.

Shea Denning, a professor of public law and government, wrote a blog post explaining the “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.”

She starts by reviewing how judges and justices are elected in North Carolina, explains special superior court judgeships and then details how judicial vacancies are currently filled. Then she cites an example to help the readers understand exactly how it all works.

Suppose Judge A is elected in 2010 to an eight-year term of office as a superior court judge. Judge A retires in March 2016, creating a vacancy for a term of office that is set to expire on January 1, 2019. The next general election held more than 60 days after the vacancy occurs is in November 2016. The superior court judgeship formerly held by Judge A will appear on the ballot in that election. If the governor appoints Judge B to fill the vacancy, Judge B will serve until January 1, 2017, at which time the judge elected in the 2016 general election will begin an eight-year term of office. If Judge A had retired in October 2016 (within 60 days of the 2016 general election) and Judge B had been appointed to fill the vacancy, Judge B would serve out the remainder of Judge A’s term ? until January 1, 2019 – the January following the 2018 general election.

The state constitution provides that vacancies in the office of district court judge, in contrast, are filled for the unexpired term “in a manner prescribed by law.” N.C. Const. Art. IV, § 10. G.S. 7A-142 provides that a vacancy in the office of district court judge is filled for the unexpired term by appointment by the governor. The local bar of the judicial district nominates five persons for the governor’s consideration, and he or she must “give due consideration to the nominees” before filling the vacancy. An appointed district court judge fills out the term of his or her predecessor.

Denning goes on to explain other parts of the processes in great detail, including the so-called merit selection mechanism that would be in the amendment.

The nominations are to be evaluated by a nonpartisan commission, which is required to evaluate each nominee without regard to the nominee’s partisan affiliation but instead with respect to whether the nominee is qualified or not qualified.

The amendment creates the “Nonpartisan Judicial Merit Commission” that must consist of no more than nine members. The appointments are to be allocated among the chief justice, the governor, and the General Assembly, as prescribed by statute. The amendment requires the General Assembly to provide for the establishment of local merit commissions for the nomination of district and superior court judges. Appointments to local commissions are likewise allocated among the chief justice, the governor, and the General Assembly, as prescribed by statute. The amendment provides that neither the chief justice, the governor, nor the General Assembly may be allocated a majority of appointments to a commission.

The evaluation of each nominee must be forwarded to the General Assembly.

You can read the full post here.

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