North Carolina is in the midst of the election season. While much conversation is focusing on executive elections like president and governor or legislative races like those for the General Assembly, one elected branch of government in this state is often overlooked: the judiciary. In North Carolina, the citizens elect our judges, and these races are partisan, bearing with any given candidate their affiliated political party on the ballot. These elected positions have a lot at stake, as News and Observer writer Virginia Bridges recently wrote:
Eight statewide races could change the makeup of North Carolina’s two highest courts and affect voting rights, education and how government agencies enforce regulations.
Three North Carolina Supreme Court seats and five Court of Appeals seats are up for grabs on Nov. 3, and the outcomes could be far-reaching for voters, families and businesses.
Bridges quotes JLF’s director of legal studies, Jon Guze, on the implications of this year’s election:
“What’s at stake are the laws that are going to govern North Carolinians for at least the next four years.”
Bridges describes the differing interpretations of both the federal and state constitutions from judicial candidates:
Republican judges tend to apply a more originalist interpretation that focuses on the original understanding and intent of the law at the time it was adopted.
Democratic judges tend to approach the law and constitution as a living document that reflects societal evolution.
Critics of originalism question the fairness of laws that haven’t kept up with or adjusted to societal evolution…
Critics of the living document approach, including Guze, say such thinking results in “activist judges” turning the court into a “super legislature.”
The NC Supreme Court currently is made-up of a Democratic supermajority, six Democrats and one Republican. This election could either create a more balanced court or cement Democrats’ control over the court by filling every seat with a Democrat.