By Matthew Burns and Laura Leslie
Raleigh, N.C. — House members voted along party lines Wednesday to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of legislation that would require anyone seeking election to a trial court judgeship to run under a party label.
Cooper issued his first veto last Thursday, saying House Bill 100 introduces too much politics into state courtrooms.
Until the 1990s, North Carolina elected judges in partisan races, but lawmakers at the time, including Cooper, who was then a state senator, voted to have judges run without Republican or Democratic labels to better insulate them from political pressure.
Critics say that nonpartisan races remove the little bit of information that some voters will know about a judge – whether they’re Republican or Democrat – from the ballot. They also point out that political parties have always distributed slate cards at the polls playing up judges who share their political affiliation.
Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly, who sponsored the bill, said the lack of information about the political affiliations of judicial candidates has left voters “disenfranchised.” He noted that 800,000 fewer people voted in the North Carolina Supreme Court race last fall than in the presidential race statewide, but about 500,000 of those voters did make selections in state Court of Appeals races, which were the only judicial races last fall with party labels next to candidates’ names.