Divided N.C. Supreme Court upholds lower court decision on retention elections

FILE PHOTO: N.C. Supreme Court hears arguments

RALEIGH – A divided North Carolina Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court ruling that held a 2015 law that changed the Supreme Court elections process was unconstitutional.  House Bill 222 had modified the elections process from a competitive two-candidate race into a retention election where voters were asked to retain or remove a justice.

A three-judge panel struck down the law as unconstitutional in March 2016 and the state appealed to the Supreme Court. The only sitting justice affected by the law, Justice Bob Edmunds, did not take part in the Supreme Court case which resulted in a 3-3 among the remaining justices. According to the opinion, which did not list the names of the justices on either side of the split, the “remaining members of the Court are equally divided …. the judgment of the three-judge panel of the Superior Court, Wake County is left undisturbed and stands without precedential value.”

This opinion stands as the final decision in the case. Three candidates, including the incumbent Edmunds, will compete in a primary on June 7. The top two candidates will compete in the November general election. The other candidates for the seat are Sabra Faires, a Raleigh lawyer who is not affiliated with a party, and Wake County Superior Court Judge Mike Morgan, a Democrat.  Justice Edmunds is a Republican.